Out of Line

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1998. All rights reserved.

In the town where I live, there's just one streetlight with one color: red. It flashes the same in all directions at a four-way stop where one state highway crosses another.

The traffic bottles up when a freight train passes through, blocking the north-south lanes. I've seen cars backed up five, maybe six deep...

Queued up in one of these small-town traffic jams the other day, I started to reflect on the lines I've waited through and the ones I missed. I used to work in midtown Manhattan, you see, once of the most densely populated places on earth.

Baseball fans, including women, waiting in line for ball grounds to open
Baseball Fans Waiting in Line
for Ballpark to Open (1920) 
My day used to begin in New Jersey where I waited on line for a bus or train going into the city. When I got to the Empire State Building, where I worked, I'd wait on line again for an elevator going to the 42nd floor.

We called it waiting "on line" rather than "in line," I suppose, to show that we were individuals and not anonymous segments in a line. Either way, I spent a lot of time waiting.

The better part of several lunch hours were spent queued up at a bank trying to cash a check, or waiting on line at the post office for a package or registered letter. I waited more than an hour, I'm sure, to get a driver's license and equally long to vote in a national election.

After work, I recall long lines at the half-price ticket booth in Times Square or the endless queues in front of movie theaters.

Checkout lanes at supermarkets were almost always seven or eight deep and the rows of people waiting for taxis after concerts or ballgames were exasperating.

Looking back on all the lining up at toll booths, pharmacies ("take a number, please, and wait your turn"), schools, and even fast food drive-up order windows, I wonder how we ever got anything done. Just think of all the productivity lost in lines.

Quite a while ago, I made a conscious decision to get out of line. I gave up the urban for the rural, trading busy lanes for open spaces, and moved from one of the most densely populated places on earth to one of the least populated.

Where I live now, there are more cows than people and no toll booths for a thousand miles. Banking only takes a few minutes, unless I meet a neighbor with something on his mind. 

At the post office, my packages are waiting at the counter if they see me coming and even letters that are misaddressed find their way into my box.

These days, the only time I spend on line is on the Internet. The shops around here never ask you to queue up for service and whatever can't be purchased locally can be delivered to my door by some parcel service. I eat at restaurants where I'm greeted by name and go to movies at a theater where rapid seating is virtually assured.

When friends I left behind in the city complain about their lives and dream about "getting away from it all," it's often the lining up that gripes them most. But when I suggest they get out of line, their response is almost always the same: "But I'll lose my place!"

Getting away from it all sometimes means just stepping out of line.

Rural Delivery
Rural Delivery
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by Michael Hofferber

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