Here’s my basic observation about waiting in line: the other line always goes faster.
I hate waiting. I’m impatient. I get anxious. I may not show my frustration on the outside but inside I’m often fuming.
You’d think that because I farm, I would be more patient and relaxed. Accept nature. Let go of things I can’t control, like the weather. And I am for the most part. But I carry a burden: I believe we can create systems that better cope with delays and waiting.
There are times I’m willing to wait, it all depends on my expectations. If I think something is worth the wait, the object or experience is valued highly, then I accept the delay and pay the added price of my time. Simply put, the move valuable the service, the longer I am willing to wait. It’s like the lines at Disneyland, my tolerance is proportional to expectations.
Businesses and organizations try to manage expectations. Some will provide estimates about how long a wait will be required. Restaurants routinely overestimate the time before a table is ready, hoping you stick around and then feel good when your wait time is less than anticipated.
Others attempt to lessen the anxiety of the wait. Occupied time feels shorter than unoccupied time so businesses will fill the interval with distractions. TV’s in waiting rooms are an example. Or mirrors near and in elevators: we fill the time waiting with our vanity.
Innovations in traffic flows create a blend of two elements: safety and speed. Roundabouts, circular intersections where drivers travel in a circle around a center island, can avoid stopping and instead drivers yield at entry to traffic then smoothly join the flow to pass through. First-time users freak out at the steady stream of moving vehicles but once you adapt, studies have found roundabout can increase traffic capacity by 30 percent to 50 percent and avoid head-on or T-bone collisions. Plus there’s a sensation of movement which I love.
Some modern researchers have introduced a new idea: last come, first serve. The idea sounds preposterous. Imagine, while waiting in line, the last person to arrive gets served first. Eventually many get disgusted and leave, resulting in very little wait time. This radical theory works if overall wait times become the driving rationale and the goal is to discourage all lines, period. Think like an economist: Waiting is a waste of resources, so in an ideal world, no one should wait.
Wait, be patient, accept delays. We in the San Joaquin Valley have often heard these excuses as the larger cities and coastal regions of the state often got higher priority for public funds, foundation support and educational initiatives. Too often the Valley has been sent to the back of the line, a geographic bias when labeled “the other California.”
We are tired of waiting in line. In many ways, we have begun to flex our muscles and are carving our own identity. The last Presidential election has exposed something: rural and working-class America are tired of standing by.
No differently than waiting in lines, there’s a new expectation level that may drive policy and politics. Many have felt others have cut ahead and gone to the front of the line. A new cry about fairness and efficiency is in the air. Simple distractions like elevator mirrors will no longer satiate nor subdue.
I hope a collective energy can rise from these dramatic changes. All entities, businesses, institutions and communities in our Valley are witnessing fundamental shifts. A potentially positive attitude can emerge: now it’s our turn to build our own roundabouts and all of us advance forward smoothly, yielding when necessary yet efficiently progressing.
Lessons from waiting in lines apply. Solo waits feel longer than group waiting. Uncertain waits feel longer than known waits. A new group mentality is growing, a regional sense of place and identity that are raising questions.
Old divisions and labels no longer apply as new alliances are created. We have the potential to work together bound by collective purpose. A simple example is immigration reform; the Valley can lead the nation in seeking a workable and just solution.
It’s time to treat the diversity of our communities as an asset and part of our wealth. We have witnessed numerous slips and skips while waiting in line, falling behind and witnessing others advance forward. The anxiety and stress can contribute to reactionary behavior, as some try to turn back the clock.
But a sense of fairness is still valued here. While waiting, we have built working relationships throughout the Valley. The time is now to rush to the front of the line as we build something uniquely our own. We can then become the “other line” that goes faster.
David “Mas” Masumoto is an organic farmer near Fresno and author of several books including “Epitaph for a Peach.” Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.