Pondering the deeper meaning of lines

October 3, 2021

Well, there are several types of these things, starting with the ones for which rulers are needed to ensure straightness. There are geographic demarcations which enable us to identify countries and continents. We have psychological terms utilizing other words such as “towing,” “walking,” “holding,” “seeing” and “avoiding.”

Then dare I even mention the physiological, involving our skin in every area of the body and the aging process? However, without lines, there would be no music compositions, no written compositions, no construction compositions. Absent lines, there is no architecture, no art. Imagine a highway without lined lanes to keep the automobiles contained and the bikers in place. And then of course there are property lines and curb lines to help define our immediate surroundings, and keep those neighbors at bay. However, these and others of this ilk are not the lines about which I am about to relate. I give you, specifically, a line in which you wait for some service or another.

Recently, for no reason I can remember or rationalize, I was waiting in line for the next available cashier. This was no ordinary line; this was similar to a line at an airport where one’s credentials are to be checked and verified. I found myself in that chain store, which is a bit of a triad, you know the one – it has three different names, three different stores, but basically almost the same concept. The particular store of the triad in which I found myself retailed all sorts of items from shoes to bath towels to home furnishings to personal wear to toys to cellphone cases, just to mention a few. I was there on a Tuesday, which I thought was safe enough with regard to the shopping population. Au contraire! The line for the next available cashier contained 30-some people and snaked around the usual one grooved aisle with another added for our shopping pleasure. The “on line” aisles were designed to encourage shoppers to buy even more of what they did not actually need. In fact, the family of three in front of me touched every item on their way to Cashier No. 8, finally actually selecting a mug for their additional purchase.

So why did I and the other shoppers wait in line to spend our money on certain respectively chosen items? What is more of the question is, why did we do what we did, having seen how long the line was? OK, let’s give it a “why not,” especially once one commits to become part of the line. You know the moment! Giving credible thought to leaving the line and the merchandise (slacks, towel, statuette) in my hand, I looked around to observe that 10 more people had entered the line behind me. I was now an official member of this line, and would eventually meet Cashier No. 6. With very few exceptions, the people on the line did not speak with one another, including yours truly. We just stood there, about three feet apart, and moved forward as individuals.

We do the same thing at airports, sporting events, concerts, popular night spots, and a myriad of other occasions or venues. We even wait in line to congratulate the bridal family at the conclusion of a wedding ceremony. We seem to have no real problem waiting in lines for things we want to do or things we want to buy. I am perplexed as to why we are so taken with lines, and spend time standing in them. After all, we have an option! As a rule, I rarely, if at all, wait in a line for anything. But something, and certainly not the three items of which I spoke, made me wait in line that particular Tuesday. Moreover, something makes each of us wait in a line periodically. Does it go back to the department store Santa Claus of the 1950s and ‘60s?

Perhaps, although we have never admitted it to ourselves because it seems so absurd, we need a line every so often, just to verify the worth of the wait, or even sometimes of absolute necessity. Disneyland, Division of Motor Vehicles, or even Costco, anyone!

  • Peter E. Carter is a former public school administrator who has served communities in three states as a principal, and district and county superintendent, for 35-plus years. He is a board member for Delaware Botanic Gardens and Cape Henlopen Educational Foundation, and the author of a dual autobiography, “A Black First…the Blackness Continues.”

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