The Queue and You

There are two aisles open for American Citizens and Residents in the arrivals hall. Travelers hurry off their planes and fill the queue and it snakes way around behind the pass control booths. The line backs up pretty quick.

You hustle off the plane (Hard learned tip: If there are stairs and an escalator between the plane and pass control, ALWAYS take the stairs) because just like at airline check-ins, if you get in the wrong one, where people have too many bags, or there's some paperwork problem, or maybe the agent's just having a bad day, each customer in front of you could mean an extra six, eight minutes.

So you try to discern how many are in which groups. Like, if those two right there are sisters and they approach the clerk at the same time, it'll be quicker than if they go separately.

Have you ever been, say, eleventh in the queue, with two booths open and you see an agent stride into a third booth, all officious and in a hurry, as if to open it? You decide to be first in line to his booth as soon as he opens, moving to the head of his queue and beating the ten in front of you out of here. So does everybody else.

Can't commit yet, until he opens. What if he just gets up and leaves? He's not ready yet. So you plan to jump at just the right moment.

You can see the guy now. He's deliberate, balding, maybe a little sanctimonious, with a good posture, young, unhurried, determined. He has an air of authority as if he's intent on Representing Our Country Correctly.

He'll open his briefcase. He'll shuffle and arrange his papers. You can't quite see all the fiddling he's doing inside the panels surrounding his little cubicle, but you figure he's turning on his computer. At least, he's facing the screen.

You're ninth in line now. You guess his computer has to have a little time to boot up. You get to talking with the woman in front of you. She thinks the guy's pretty good-looking, you guess, but that's not what you talk about. You conspire to be the first two in his line when he opens.

You read his facial expressions. Is he a helpful kind of guy? Will he hurry to accommodate? Now you're eighth to the front and you've already been here fifteen minutes. You imagine your bags are spinning around on the carousel out there by now. And your shoulder bag is starting to weigh you down.

Nah, you decide he's not going to be your savior. He's being too damned deliberate, doing things you can't see behind his plexiglass. You can still attribute his movements back there to his follow-the-procedures work ethic, if you're still being kind.

You don't know, maybe he's getting out his own personal-issue passport stamp and inking it. Whatever he's doing, he's doing it behind that glass so you can't be sure. Now three people move up in a group to one of the open lanes and now you're fifth. You've had this guy in your sights to save you some time for seven minutes now and you might only have seven to go, but he can still save you those seven.

The fatalistic humor starts now with the lady in front of you because in another person or so, you'll have to do a kind of blocking maneuver with your body to both keep your option to go to the new guy's aisle and keep the people behind you from edging around you to get to the two open aisles. You can use your shoulder bag to help with that.

Now you're fourth. When you're third it won't really matter if he ever opens or not, because then there'll only be one person per queue.

He never lifts his eyes outside his booth, like the unhelpful bartender who won't notice you even though it's obvious you're there. You and the woman joke that he's just back there playing video games, or that his lunch break doesn't end for four more minutes and he's not going to go back to work a minute before that.

He turns on the light behind his little sign. He's ready to go and there's the big crush. Everybody's been plotting just like you. People crowd into his queue and now you'd be fourth to the front with him – if you go right now – and you're second where you are. So you stay put. Some guy behind you saves ten minutes.

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