Chicago Tribune: No budging in line, seniors


By Chicago Tribune



Imagine you’ve been patiently waiting your turn at, say, the Starbucks. You finally reach the front when a senior citizen strides up and announces that he is next in line. Not you. Him.

Every 4-year-old in America knows the riposte to that. No budging. Wait your turn (accompanied by a thumb jerk to the end of the line).

But in Brazil? A revolutionary idea sure to stir a battle of the ages: Cutting to the head of the line is legal for those over 60. That country requires all businesses and government facilities to provide “immediate” and “differentiated” attention to seniors, The Wall Street Journal reports. Any institution that doesn’t toe the line can face fines.

“I do it everywhere: supermarkets, pharmacies, banks,” 72-year-old Jose Rodrigues de Farias told the Journal. “And if someone complains, I say I have priority.”

If you’re of a certain age, like some of us, this may sound, um, delightful. You may even be tempted to ring AARP and ask why U.S. seniors aren’t afforded the red-velvet-rope treatment, ushered to the head of the line everywhere.

But we believe there’s a smarter solution to lines that move too slowly, trapping not only seniors but everyone else in limbo.

What we need is not more and swifter express lanes, but more dedicated Extremely Slow Lines. These would be lines for people who create massive bottlenecks because … they’re not prepared when their turn comes or they’re just not in a hurry like the rest of us.

Many people calibrate their daily routines so they can avoid the line at the bank, the queue at the restaurant or the scrum at the doctor’s office. Most of us still wind up stacked in a holding pattern, fuming in lines that move … too … slowly.

That’s why people instinctively scrutinize lines at stores, not just for how many people are in line but for how full their carts are. Other factors can also tip the scales. Multiple toddlers in full screech? Slide to the next lane!

The experienced line judge scans for potential dawdlers. That includes people fumbling with their wallets, squinting as if they had just emerged from a decade or two of hibernation. Millennials glued to their smartphones should cull themselves into those slow lines because they’re distracted. Shoppers who write personal checks for merchandise or groceries — 1987 calling! — belong in the Extremely Slow Line. (Hint: if you have an aol.com email address, move to the ESL, please.)

If the members of the SloMo Brigade were herded into a line where they could take their time, dither, daydream, fish for checks or cash or jabber on their smartphones, then everyone else would be free to move briskly through whatever lines remained with a minimum of waiting.

MIT professor Richard Larson, who studies queuing theory (yes, it exists!) estimates that people can spend a year or two of their lives waiting in line, the Washington Post reports — filled with boredom, smoldering glances at people dawdling at the head of the line, and vigilance against anyone with the temerity to cut into line. Line theorists say people tolerate lines better if they are distracted by television, reading materials or conversations. Mirrors, too. Estimated wait times also help ease the anxiety.

But as we all know, the wait is exponentially worse if you watch the line next door, the one you didn’t join, move at a much brisker clip.

“When we see people arrive after us and get served before us, we get very angry,” Larson told Slate. “We can remember it for days, sometimes. And there have been incidents of ‘queue rage.’ People have drawn knives and guns.”

Or written editorials.

Got a complaint about this one? Get in line.

By Chicago Tribune

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