Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lady in Waiting

Yesterday I was a Lady in Waiting. This is the anatomy of an exercise in waiting and patience.

It starts at DMV, where experience has taught me that if you cannot wait three weeks to get an appointment, your best bet is to be there when the doors open. I've been known to be in and out within 45 minutes using this approach.

But when I arrived at about ten til eight, the line was already a couple dozen long, and the doors were not even open yet. My first instinct was to get back in the van and drive to Napa DMV, where I can get in and out in 40 minutes any time of day. But I wasn't up for the drive. How bad could it be? I do a quick survey of the paperwork in the hands of those who came before me and determined at most, maybe 10 of them were there for the same reason as I was. "This is totally doable," I tell myself.

Finally, a uniformed security guard opened the door and the line lurched forward. Just as it comes to a stop again an elderly woman asks me if she can cut in front of me. I look at the line that now snaked along the sidewalk, an additional 40 people long, and pat her frail shoulder saying, "I was waiting for you, I'm so glad you got here on time." Winking, I make space for her in front of me.

The line progresses as each party in front of me makes their case at the "START HERE" desk and receives a number for the service specific to their needs. And finally I receive my number as well: G008. Only 7 others in front of me, and it only took 17 minutes to get this far.

So, I sit down, pull out my mobile device and start looking for interesting items to ReTweet. Then I read some news, check a few emails, correspond with a colleague and check the clock again: fourty-two minutes since they opened the door. Looking up I notice that they are only on number 3 in my category and the line for the "START HERE" desk is still easily 50 people long. I read some more email and forward more tweets, but now check the clock every ten minutes or so. I see people who were in line behind me leave, happy to have finished their business, and still, there is no movement in my category. I started to become anxious and wonder, "Why aren't they calling the 'G' numbers?"

At one hour twenty minutes in I overhear the "START HERE" clerk say they are having a problem with the equipment required for my kind of transaction. It could take a while. She starts telling people to come back later. I look at the line that is still trailing out the door and then at my crumpled ticket I stuffed in my wallet and think about how maybe a drive to the wine country wouldn't have been so bad.

At the two hour mark I'm making a conscious effort to not begin heavy sighing and other signs of impatience. "It will happen when it happens," I tell myself. And finally at the 2 hour 20 minute mark it does. My number is called and I'm out the door within 20 minutes.

This wait was followed by another eight to nine minutes of hold time trying to get a doctor's appointment, waiting in line at the bank (7 minutes), at the grocery store (4 minutes), the doctors office (25 minutes), the lab (20 minutes) and the pharmacy (25 minutes).

I'm usually pretty good about waiting. It's a skill I picked up while stationed in Italy.

In Italy there are two kinds of waiting. The first involves a gaggle that produces an order based on the position of shoulders and elbows. Show no fear, and watch out for the Grannies, they're exceptionally skilled at getting to the front of these clusters.

The second kind of waiting is more enigmatic. One waits for an unspecified amount of time until the event you seek occurs. This event could be the crossing of trains, the length of a five-course meal, or the wait for death. It's a wait one cannot control, thus the wait is like a gift of unexpected time, to have a cigarette, another glass of wine, or to contemplate life thus far.

I was reminded of that kind of wait while I waited for a chance to write these things here, as I wait for the ferry I'm on right now, to traverse the gray choppy waters of the San Francisco Bay.

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