It’s that time of the year again. It’s time to stand in line. Not just any line, but the mother of all lines. The Wind-Around-Three-Blocks lines, the Come At 3 a.m. lines, the Bring Your Own Blanket and Sleeping Bag lines.
Yes, Black Friday is this Friday. Everyone in the city is going to be standing in line. Everyone, that is, except me.
No, no, I will not catch up on my sleep. I will wake up early on Black Friday and drive around the city. I will drive by each Best Buy and Circuit City, and marvel at the lines. I will look at the full parking lots and the cars still rushing in. I will watch the hundreds of people standing in the snow, their gloved hands in their pockets, their breath coming out in mists. I will admire their determination, and their parkas.
I will not attempt to join any of the lines. Instead, I will rejoice that it’s them and not me.
You see, I have bad line karma. The world changes when I stand in line.
Fast-moving lines become non-moving lines the moment I join them. The world speeds up around me, or at least the lines beside me do. My own world slows down to a crawl.
Sales clerks are transformed when I am standing in line. Formerly morose clerks start long chats with customers. They slow down, and turn over each item five times before scanning it. They try to scan each item twenty times. They confuse parsley with cilantro. They look at you blankly when you say “it’s chayote squash”. They laboriously thumb through pictures of vegetables, like a first-grader learning new words.
The efficient clerks go off their shifts, making way to the slow ones, the newbies and the ones that have just woken up.
The People Standing In Front Of Me also change. They suddenly remember to call their mothers. They call their friends to discuss last night’s game. Or start long arguments with their girlfriends. Meanwhile, we wait for them to sign their bill.
They rummage through their handbags for their wallets. They pull out wads of coupons and start sorting through them. They try to use credit cards that the store does not accept. They take out currency bills and count them two hundred times. They use cursive writing to sign their checks.
They carefully unload their groceries on the counter. Then they realize they forgot to buy cheese. They rush back to the shelves, and while in there they remember a few more things.
They fill their shopping carts to the brim. Then they stand in the express lane.
They decide to apply for the store credit card. And discuss each of the terms in great detail with the clerk.
I wait patiently, and impatiently, alternating hope and despair. Just as I wonder whether I should buy some Prozac, finally, magically, it is my turn to pay. I speed bag my stuff, I scribble my signature. I grab my cart and run. I race into the parking lot, glad to smell fresh air at last. I slow down when I see everyone looking at me strangely. I turn the keys in my car and speed out of the lot. And then, I wait in the long, slow line at the ramp.
All you who stand in line this Friday, I admire you. I will root for you, I will pray for you. I will bring you bottled water and hot snacks. But I will not stand in line with you.
For one day in the year, I will drive around watching people standing in lines. I will rejoice and give thanks that not one of those people in line is me.