Hurry Up and Wait

Joyce Eisenberg and Ellen Scolnic write, speak and blog together as The Word Mavens.

They say you spend one-third of your life sleeping, but some days we feel like we spend the other two-thirds of our lives waiting – at the airport, in a doctor’s office, and at a restaurant lurking over the hostess stand. Why isn’t it our turn yet?

“Group 6 can now board the plane.”
It’s a given that we’ll have to wait at the airport. In fact, for an international flight they want us to show up three hours before departure, and we follow the rules. But how many packs of $4 gum can we buy? How many bathroom trips can we make? By the time the plane actually takes off, our phones are at 12% because we’ve been waiting around for hours with nothing to do but play Words With Friends.

We’d love to be young and carefree and get to the airport with 20 minutes to spare, but we know we’ll get really anxious if we don’t have at least an hour in the plastic seats.

“Please take a seat until we call you.”
At the doctor’s office, we have a specified appointment time. In fact, they called to remind us of our appointment time. So imagine our disappointment as we sit and wait and realize that the appointment time turns out to have just been a suggestion, like when the Comcast repair guy promises to show up between 7 and 10 a.m.

When we sign in, we glance at the names on the list. Do I know any of these people? What is their medical condition? Are HIPAA laws just a suggestion too?

We pick up a People magazine and settle in to wait, but after about 15 minutes we start to get antsy. We find ourselves being extra vigilant about who else is waiting for the doctor. Did that woman in the red sweater arrive after me? Finally the nurse beckons us to come on back, which just means it’s time to get weighed and sit naked in a paper gown, waiting some more. Now we don’t even have a magazine.

We do tend to forgive our OBGYN. When they’re running late, it’s because they’re busy delivering a baby. We understand that babies butt in line. They don’t know about signing in, and they don’t have a Google calendar.

“Uh, looks like you need new brake pads.”
Sometime we actually look forward to waiting – like when we bring our car in for service. We imagine that we’ll have an hour of peace and quiet. We’ll read a magazine. Have a cup of coffee and relax.

It doesn’t turn out that way. In the car repair waiting room, the TV is turned to Fox News at volume 52. The coffee looks tempting, but the paper cups are covered in a layer of dust. We do appreciate the complimentary bag of Fritos and the granola bar.

It’s hard to find a seat, but we don’t want sit anyway. The upholstered chairs haven’t been updated since 1973 and the arms are black with grime. Perhaps if we drove a luxury car the service center waiting room would be more luxurious.

“How many in your party?”
Sometimes we go old school and just walk into a restaurant without a reservation. If we’re told the wait will be about 15 minutes, we suffer in silence. If the wait is much more, we weigh our options.

Is the hostess underestimating the wait time so we don’t leave and go elsewhere? Is she overestimating because she’s hoping we’ll walk out and not nudge her? How could there be such a long wait at our local taco place? It’s not even that good. But if we leave now we’ll have to put our name at the bottom of the list at another restaurant – after driving 10 minutes to get there. More waiting.

We decide to wait but make a strategy. Every 10 minutes one of us will ask the hostess, “How’s it going? Who are you up to now? How much longer do you think it will be?” But we have to be careful. If we ask too many questions, she’ll slide our name to the bottom of the list and give our table to the family of 8 that’s waiting quietly.

We like it better when they hand us a vibrating coaster that will ring when our table is ready. This innovation comforts us. It lets us know we still have our place in line. They haven’t forgotten us. Entrusted with the coaster, we have something to do while we wait: We watch it to make sure we don’t miss the vibration and the flashing red lights.

“Five more minutes and then I’ll comb the color through.”
At the hair salon, we wait for 30 to 40 minutes with brown goo on our heads, smelling like a chemical experiment, looking like a clown, and waiting for color R564 (ageless honey brown) to take effect. The woman in the chair next to us opted for highlights; she looks like an alien with her head wrapped in foil. We don’t mind waiting here because we know it will be worth it. Our hair will look fabulous when we’re done.

We kvetch about waiting because we’ve been there, done that – er, waited for that –  before. We’re experienced. We’ve learned that sometimes it’s worth the wait and sometimes it’s not.

Waiting in line at the new small-plates restaurant until the hipster hostess decides to acknowledge us. Not worth it.

Waiting to get off the plane from seat 26C. Waiting in the customs line. Waiting for our suitcase and the shuttle bus to take a 40-minute ride to the white sand beach with palm trees. Worth it.

Fighting the traffic on the day before Thanksgiving, waiting in the pickup line at the airport when our kids fly home. Totally worth it.



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