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Friday did not go as planned

Unfortunately I wake up and find that my alarm has been going for about half-an-hour, which is all my SNAFU time gone in one swell foop. Predictably the bus I just missed is not as late as the one I end up on, my embarassing attempt to defect to the other coach company (thwarted by the discovery that my wallet contains not £15, but £5) made worse by the fact that I had been politely waved ahead by some suit trying to wipe out his shame at using public transport. When the bus finally turns up, it happens again, though this time the man is so young and dumb I have to look full in his face before he resentfully deigns to communicate his innate politeness and consideration through the international language of the gesture, rather than telepathically.

Ticket duly fumbled, step duly stumbled and safely ensconced next to a man in a neck brace reading a bible, I breakfast on the thin fumes of nail polish (who doesn't appreciate the challenge of doing their nails on the bus?), calculate my tube journey (too long, no matter how I play it) and seethe about People Who Can't Queue.

Queuing is neither peculiarly British, nor anchored in any specific class, age or location, no matter what your local pub sociologist would have you believe. It's a universal. Kids do it, punks do it, even animals do it. It's just an efficient way to access limited resources; and the only reason we make such a big thing about it is that it while we're at it, we have time to think.

And unfortunately, what we do is waste our time musing about the essential nature of queuing, rather than figuring out and sticking to the optimum rules for the specific queue which we are in. For British buses, the rules are these:
  • If you're the front of the queue, step forward and wave for the bus.
  • Get on without delay, and have money/pass/questions/luggage ready.
  • Only offer help to people directly ahead of you in the queue and then only if they clearly need it.
  • Letting people in ahead of you is OK for one person you know well.
  • Flirting or conversing should only be done if it doesn't slow you down.
  • Get in, sit down, get out of the way.
For other situations, other rules apply. For queueing at a window in Liverpool Street station, for example.

Time passes, and I make my apologies to my uncle, my father (you should have called me! said Dad, I would have given you a lift!). Go to Tower Bridge, where half a gay Dutch couple compliments me on my charity-shop hat (did he see the place where I'd just removed the red ribbon in my attempt to be funereal?) and walk across it (something I've never done before) under the gargoyles and onto the Thames path to the slate expanses dotted with modern art which marks the regeneration area around City Hall. The Thames is grey; the rain falls down. My only black bag soaks through and after a bit I remember to rescue the tech to my trouser pockets. The scripts will just have to soak through; the whipstick lipstick will cope or dissolve. I pace the Thames through underpasses and stairs, past building sites and murals and offices behind glass, benches and piers and innovative public lighting schemes.

My feet hurt, in my smart black shoes.

Eventually I make it to the concrete beach at the Tate, and spread everything out to dry, stretch out in the imaginary light of the sodium sun that gives neither real warmth nor real light but just the image of both. The paper isn't too wet to sketch on, so I script, between glancing up at scampering toddlers and hallucination prickles of white light. The cloud machines turn on, and I run away before everything gets even wetter.

I go upstairs to history and memory, look at trees liberated from the beams they were imprisoned within, images of a Brazil long-gone, the sign that reads, "THE WORLD HAS BEEN EMPTY SINCE THE ROMANS". Since you've been gone, since you've been gone.

And so on. And so on.


( 9 worms — Feed the birds )
9th Feb, 2004 09:06 (UTC)
What a novel idea ... certainly doesn't exist on San Francisco's MUNI.

Only madly competative jostling and onrushing, crushing the staff-bound senior trying to get off the bus will secure the precious resource of space.

Jungle laws on the 9 San Bruno...ahhhh.
9th Feb, 2004 09:09 (UTC)
you have more space than we do
If teeny-tiny Britain ran on US impoliteness levels, we'd kill each other.
9th Feb, 2004 09:11 (UTC)
I meant "self-empowerment levels", obviously.
9th Feb, 2004 10:19 (UTC)
I think there are significant and peculiar/particular cultural values surrounding the practice of queuing...

It really isn't as universal as we'd like to think.

In Britain, raised on values of shared commons, Labour equity, and decades of rationing - there is a sensibility that accepts this method.

There is a similar value and experience in Germany, where 'zipper method' autobahn entrance is equitable and rigorously self-enforced.

In the US, Taiwan, and Nigeria ... the idea of queuing is in varying degrees alien.

In the US, whetted on cowboy/freedom-moving ideology - queuing is only tolerated in certain contexts: as in the ATM or the grocery cashier. Oddly, the concept of neighbourliness for the shared use of getting to destination (which seems to prevail for the likes of shopping, or withdrawing money) doesn't seem to dominate. At least this devaluation is consistent with motoring as well.

In Taiwan, all transport is a complete chaos. Tiny students have to rush aboard buses, getting crushed in the process is simply an accepted 'price of living.' No one has bothered to put together a social programme of educating people and habituating them to best-practices. Rampant competition prevails instead. Having visited Singapore, I know such a programme could succeed - though authoritarian government will probably be required. ;-) Perhaps the chaos is the inevitable result of such human compression and excessive demand to supply - I remember film credits being cut with the next audience being showed in before one could get up to leave - herding pressure instead of regulation (in Taiwan).

In Nigeria, well, let's just say that concert-goers were shown their way out at the end of a thorn-bush lash.
10th Feb, 2004 02:34 (UTC)
still queuing, but different rules. Herd queues (everyone rushing in one direction at once) are still regulating themselves, albeit slightly, and the American rules, for all that they're different, sound quite as severe as here. To queue in the wrong place (at a bar, for example) is just as annoying as not queuing when you should.

My point, insofar as I had one, is that queuing is something we all need to do; but the rules vary. So you should try and make an effort to learn how those rules apply to your current circumstance, rather than arrogantly doing as you please.

> I know such a programme could succeed

Well, it depends on your definition of success, of course.
10th Feb, 2004 06:01 (UTC)
Re: hmmmm
still queuing, but different rules. Herd queues (everyone rushing in one direction at once) are still regulating themselves, albeit slightly,

hmmm...think of Cornmarket on a busy day without the benefit of the linear limiting factor. One can manage it, but I hardly consider it 'queuing' - difference of definition I suppose.

9th Feb, 2004 10:04 (UTC)
Re: you have more space than we do
Indeed, we'd do too - except we never know who's packin'

Actually - I mostly blame the jostling illegal Chinese migrants who are far too used to even less personal space and social custom. The black folks mainly get around this by producing their own territorial areas on the bus which the Chinese are frightened to go to - and marking that territory with discarded McDonald's packaging seems the prevailing method.

State sanctioned racism may have been on the wane, but nothing quite like self-selecting racism it seems. :-)

10th Feb, 2004 02:36 (UTC)
of the two guys who annoyed me
the first was an older white guy, the second a younger black guy. *shrug* I think they were united, however, in their embarassment at taking the bus.
10th Feb, 2004 05:57 (UTC)
Re: of the two guys who annoyed me
Yeah, I have never quite understood this idea that going by bus is somehow 'low.'

The train and car can be every bit as slow, crowded, uncomfortable - and vica versa.
( 9 worms — Feed the birds )