There’s an order to living among strangers, with unspoken rules unless someone breaks one of them, such as waiting in line. Waiting. We hate it, but it’s necessary. We are in a world now where instant gratification is a drug and waiting in line is its antithesis.
Being in New York always makes me (more) aggressive. Recently in NYC, I experienced two misunderstandings while waiting in line. The first happened at Burlington clothing in Union Square–I was there to buy a sundress because I was “pregnant woman sweaty” in my jeans and tank and couldn’t take it anymore! An elderly woman got in front of me to pay for something but the cashier said she had been first anyway. Although slightly annoyed, I let it go (plus, I’m not going to yell at a senior citizen!).
You can probably guess where the second instance happened–yep, the subway. Simultaneously, TWO people walked around me and my friend in both lines we separately were waiting in for metro cards. Although my visiting Canadian friend is quite friendly, in unison he and I yelled, “Whoa! Whoa! There is a line!” The line cutters tried to act innocent, and really, did it matter that much? No. But we were next up and these two were about the experience the instant gratification of not waiting. I said no f-ing way!
This brings me to one of the stories in my new book, Encounters with Strangers, about waiting your turn at NYC’s Social Security Office. NYC and government offices are the perfect storm for fights among strangers. Don’t believe me? Read below!
Bad Behavior: Waiting Room Misconduct
(excerpt from Encounters with Strangers Book)
It took me over a year to make the final decision to legally change my name to Nubia DuVall Wilson after I got married because I love my maiden name. What I thought would be a fairly normal visit to the social security office in Manhattan turned into a circus, starting with waiting in a long line just to take the elevator up.
Fifteen minutes later, I entered the lift and was pushed to the back, and those behind me were now standing in front of me. Darn, I thought, now I am last in line!
I entered the waiting room of the office and stood in line to request a name change and get a number from a computer screen set up in the room. Then I headed toward a seat near the middle of the room.
The closest person near the seat I was about to sit in didn’t look too clean. As I got closer, he didn’t smell too clean either. I veered left and chose a different chair. Just when I got settled, a different man with foul body odor sat next to me—I was trying to be polite, but I couldn’t take the smell, so I strategically moved to a corner by a window and stood clear of humans.
The staff began calling numbers and names, but people (mostly elderly) either responded to the wrong name and number or failed to respond at all, forcing them to miss their turn and get new numbers all over again. It was painful to watch.
There was one lady who refused to wait. She had long, wild, black hair, was middle-aged, and carried two large shopping carts filled with garbage bags. She went to a service window without being called. We couldn’t hear what the service professional was saying, but Bag Lady yelled, “I must talk to her now! She knows my case…yes…but I must talk to her! i am listening!” She then scoffed and dejectedly returned to her seat with a huff.
Five minutes later, the social worker she wanted personal attention from started to help a man at her service window. Bag Lady jumped up and interrupted at the window, “I need to talk to you now!”
The man being helped looked at Bag Lady and yelled, “I have been waiting here for over an hour, and i am in pain! you have to waaait!”
An older man (who was previously yelling to himself and ignoring his nonstop cell-phone calls, which had the most annoying ringtone ever that he refused to turn off even after my dirty looks) yelled at Bag Lady, “you gotta wait your turn!”
Two security guards came out of nowhere to pry Bag Lady from window number three and calm her down. They forced her to return to her seat and reminded her to wait for her number to be called. She stared so hard at the number ticket that I thought she was going to burn a hole through it.
When my name was called, I was taken to a separate area in the back office to fill out the paperwork to change my name. I asked the social worker if the social security office was always this crazy, and she said dryly, “This is a good day!”