To the Back of the Line

“CLASS, if you cannot form a quiet and orderly line, there will be no recess.” Ms. McGeorge’s voice cascaded from stern to pleasant. We had learned about lines in kindergarten, but it seemed that we were going to be held to a higher standard in the first grade. There is a self governance that quickly ingrains itself when individuals are held accountable for the actions of the group. A distasteful glance may be enough to pull some in line, while others require a little leaning on. That is just the way it works, it is almost instinctual.
That behavior is reinforced throughout primary and even secondary education, there are lines for everything. To turn papers in. To go to the bathroom. To get lunch in the cafeteria. To evacuate the building in case of a fire, yes, your life depends on the order of that line. I find it baffling that as we get older some lose sight of the importance of the line, without which the very thread of civility might become exposed and begin to unravel. I’ll get back to that in a second.
Luckily I had been able to avoid the insanity of Black Friday, the super sales day after Thanksgiving. Just reading the headlines the next day was enough to make me cringe. Fights broke out, people got trampled and on at least one occasion some ill directed soul decided to secure their purchase by using a taser. Thankfully, those types of things generally happened in the larger metropolitan areas. We in the Midwest are a much more gentile and rule abiding people.
As an alternative my wife and I have gone to a New Year’s Day sale at a retailer in St. Joe, the past few years hoping to avoid the commotion. This year we decided to be there before the store opened, first ones through the door.
We arrived 45 minutes early joining a number of people calmly waiting in their cars. A few minutes later one approached the door. I assured my wife she was only checking the store hours and then would rejoin the rest of us, comfortably waiting in our cars. But then another approached and another, by the time my wife convinced me to join her, we were the fourth layer to the now forming line.
The store entrance had six doors, following standard procedure we had formed a line behind the two center doors. From the first group back, each position of the line bearing the number in that party. A husband, wife and child; two sisters with two kids each in tow; an older mother with her son and his wife, and then my wife and I. We would still be among the first in, life was good.
It started innocently enough. A twenty something lady, husband and two kids started to squirt by us, making it obvious that they were just joining her parents that were holding a position in line for them. I see this as bad form and cast an unaccepting glance in their direction. Understanding the need for structure the husband stayed back, this seemed a fitting compromise, I backed down.
Then out of the corner of my eye I saw them. People slowly began to test the sides of our line. I could hear them, ‘There are six doors, no use in everyone standing behind just two of them.’
Excuse me, I think there is every reason for us to maintain our position behind these two doors, that is the only way to maintain the line, the very thing that keeps our civilization from a chaotic collapse. I tried the glance, even nudging my wife to share in my contempt filled stare. Nothing. I went as far to say to my wife in an audible tone, “Don’t they realize we have been waiting here… IN LINE?” Nothing.
I desperately wanted the store manager to stick her head out and say, “SHOPPERS, if you cannot form a quiet and orderly line, there will be no specials today.” But there was no saving me from this evil hoard. The push continued from the sides. A man used his child to wedge their way past us. Minutes seemed like hours, and all I could do was hang my head.
The doors opened like a flood gate, people surged in from all sides, further destroying the line. For some this world might be every man for himself and silly things like lines may seem to have no place. I tend to prefer structure, realizing the importance of the line and quite possibly the humanity there in. Maybe the next time you are shoving your way to the front , maybe you’ll see me, I’ll be the one giving you a distasteful look to guilt you back to your place in line.


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