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Queuing

As kids, we learn all the rules that get us a good mark in “Plays well with others”. One of them is how to form a queue or line and act like good little kids that do not frazzle our saintly elementary school teachers more than necessary.

This carries over into being a supposed adult. When I went to pick up my son at summer camp recently, they had an elaborate procedure in place to guarantee the kids’ safety. Everyone had to present a form of ID to pick up their child, and it was compared to a list of valid parents and caretakers. This operation took a lot of time, and so everyone automatically formed a line.

The process gave me time to consider how strange it was. In order to see my own son, I had to pull out a card that said I could drive a car. The relation between the two is a matter of legal and social convention, but we all accept it. The need for security to protect the kids caused no one to question the process, or even to question how bizarre it was at times. The queues ended at tables weighed down with big binders full of names, staffed by bored camp counselors functioning as bureaucrats; all they were missing was a stamp of some kind to make it look like a port of entry in Europe or South America. American bureaucrats don’t usually get stamps and have to settle for withering glances. These kids were too tired for even that.

The process was governed by the orderly nature of Minnesotans, a people who easily accept a certain level of inconvenience in the interest of getting along. In my native Miami it would be different. There would be less of a line than a progressing blob. Someone would attempt to bribe their way to the front, and some others might get into an argument about position (possibly resulting in gunplay). Not in Saint Paul. We are a people who play by the rules, even those rules that are not written. We learn these rules as children, and live by them without making waves.

At one time I gave tours of the Summit Brewery here in Saint Paul on Saturdays. It was a volunteer job, paid in beer, and while I took it seriously it was a lot of fun. Every tour group was different, and generally they all waited through my elaborate stories and lame jokes until their chance to swarm up to the bar for free samples of a truly great beer. One tour group was made up of teachers, and they certainly enjoyed all the information. When the tour came to an end and it was time for samples, they dutifully queued up in a straight line and waited their turn. These were not just Minnesotans, these were the people that trained the next generation of Minnesotans.

Every day waiting for my son I now have some time to think about the rules that govern our social behavior that we are all supposed to simply know. Some of us are not from Saint Paul, after all, and cannot be expected to automatically understand the arcane details. I am sure that my driving style is routinely considered something between “Jerkface” and “Danger to society”. This is a direct result of my tendency to consider traffic signs such as “Speed Limit 30″, “No Parking” or “One Way” to be nothing more than helpful suggestions. I am not from here, after all. I am from a more dangerous place.

Time spent queued up is like any other slow time in life. It’s best to let it happen and steal the moment back by letting your mind wander a bit. I have used these hovering moments to think about socially accepted behavior and how I sometimes simply do not “get it”. Gradually, I have become slightly ashamed and guilty about it all. Perhaps I am a Minnesotan after all.

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