Hurry up and Wait

By Lisa Sugarman

So I’m in the checkout line at the market last week and the girl behind the register runs out of change.

No big deal.

Or so I thought.

She’s perfectly lovely about it, too. Apologizes and says it’ll only be a second. And it really does only take about 32 seconds. But it’s what happened during those 32 seconds that really threw me.

It’s the woman directly behind me. As soon as she gets wind that there’s a holdup the heavy breathing starts. You know, the big, audible sighs. Then she starts rearranging her groceries on the belt, pushing them closer to the scanner as if they’ll pass through quicker by osmosis. And this is all in the first eight seconds.

Then I hear her draw in a breath and at the same time I hold mine just waiting for it. You know, like when you hear a car screech and you wait for the impact. And then it came. The “OHHHHHH, CUM, OOOOOOOOON!!!!!!!!!”

Now this woman had to be pushing at least 60 so she’s been at this whole life thing for awhile. Which is exactly why she doesn’t get a free pass just because she’s an AARP member. If anything, she’s old enough to know better.

That kind of impatience is just plain wrong. And it irks me. Most people (age notwithstanding) can manage a little tolerance. Or, at the very least, can control their craziness long enough to get to their car where they can scream it out in private.

Back to the market.

The clock is still ticking here and the line still hasn’t moved.

I’ve only got like four items, I’m paying in cash, and I’ve got a reusable bag. So once the cashier is locked and loaded I’m in/out. But I have to be honest, once that groan hit the air all bets were off. I was going to count out my nine-dollar-and-seventy-two cent bill in all pennies. And slowly. Just to make a point. (Sometimes tough love is the only way.)

Let’s be clear, I don’t consider myself an activist by nature (although I did go to a No-Nukes rally with my Aunt Charlotte back in the 70s, but I was only 9), but I do think that certain messages need to be sent to certain people at certain times in certain ways. And there’s no better message-sending tool than subtlety. When used correctly, subtlety can hit you like a brick in the face without you ever seeing it coming.

With two kids and a husband, a house, a job, a Beagle, a fish, and everything that that implies, I’ve always got somewhere else I need to be so time is kind of a commodity. But not that day. That day I took my sweet time and I did it to send a simple message: Hurry up and wait, honey.

It makes me sad that there are people out there who can’t just be even a little patient. It seems like such a straightforward idea but some people just can’t seem to get their minds around it. We all have moments of complete self-absorption, for sure, but overall people should eventually accept the fact that there are 6,826,300,000 of us waiting our turns for something, somewhere, every minute of every day. And that’s a helluva line.

I’ve just seen this attitude way too much lately. And I just wish someone could tell me why. I see it in the car on my way to and from school pick up. I see it in the dumbest places like waiting for treadmills in the gym and at traffic lights. I see it at doctor’s offices and in the passing lane on 128. I see it at ATMs and restaurants. I see it everywhere. And all for what?

Everybody’s jockeying for position just to get somewhere four seconds sooner than the guy behind them. Seriously?

I don’t think people realize that this low-level impatience is the just the first step on the crazy train toward fanaticism. These traits start small and then mushroom out of control. One minute you’re cutting someone off in the Y parking lot to make it to Tae Bo and the next minute you’re swiping a woman’s leg at Crosby’s to get the last box of Lucky Charms.

We’re not on the Upper West Side. This is Marblehead, remember?

When I was a kid my Aunt Lora down in Warner Robins, Georgia once told me, “Baby girl, there’s no such thing as wasted time. Every minute has a purpose. You can be standing in line at the bank and you can be thinking about what you’re going to make for dinner or who you want for president. All that extra time is all worthwhile. It just depends on how you use it.”

I never forgot that.

So whenever I catch myself getting antsy or impatient I try to remember that life is way too short as it is. And that’s one thing I want to take my sweet time with.

Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at OR read her blog at


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