No, no, no, it’s not, not really!
I work hard at being an idiot. You understand my envy when I run across a natural, someone who pulls it off effortlessly.
Recently, when I pushed my modestly-filled cart to the checkout line, the line was humongous. To the mega-everything “wholesale” retailer’s credit, they’d devised a single-thread queue which worked reasonably well.
An “Associate,” poor soul, stood at the front of the queue. When one of five working registers opened, that is it had completed the previous engagement, he directed the shopper at the head of the queue to that open register. This cleverly short-stopped frazzled shoppers entering one of five individual queues which would cause (pardon my pun-like word choice) wholesale queue disengaging/reengaging.
Queue-swapping naturally occurs in multi-queue scenarios because shoppers judge which queue appears moving the quickest before joining at the tail of that queue. Invariably (we’ve all been there) no matter which queue a ready-to-pay shopper has chosen, that queue suddenly dies. The wrong-guessing shopper ultimately abandons the dead-queue (price-check, rejected credit card, that jug of milk is leaking, etc.) to select one of the remaining four, having to that point constantly monitored all other queues to determine the sagacity of their previous commitment.
As quickly as an alternate choice is made, the newly selected queue stalls, the one just left becomes a model of efficiency. This affects not just one queue, one shopper, but all queues and all shoppers, sooner rather than later. Shoppers swap queues so furiously it rather looks like a some-ethnic-group fire drill. Confusion crescendos, carts bang, egg escaped from egg-cartons break, on-sale-today-only garden implements fall off platform carts, and ice cream and five-pound bags of frozen mixed berries thaw and leak onto the floor. Civilized people become crazed monsters as tempers flare.
That day there were, incidentally, five more registers. Idle. “Oh, there is not enough staff to man them,” you offer. Pungent-smelling bull-leavings! Even from where I stood on this occurrence, I could see not less than four “Associates” standing with fingers up their, ah, er, noses, chatting amongst themselves. Not business. If business causes that much hilarity, we should all look to get jobs with that company.
I counted some forty shoppers in line ahead of me. More, but beyond that the reality of it became heart-breaking. The single queue was large enough it assumed a serpentine shape, folding on itself four times so it did not occupy more than half the store’s floorspace.
Last in line, I resigned myself to fate, happy I’d not needed anything frozen, best refrigerated, or so heavy it threatened to crush the axles of my cart. The gentleman ahead of me, turned to face me as three new queue-ticipants lined-up behind me.
“Excuse me,” he said, “but would you hold my place in line for me?”
“Pardon?” Please try to imagine the incredulity in my voice.
“Hold my place in line. I’ll be right back.”
I noticed the gent had no basket, no cart, no little flatcar, and nothing in his mitts.
“Where’s your cart?”
“Don’t have one yet.”
“Wanted to get a spot in line first. You’ll hold my place?”
“Your place sir,” I turned to face the rear of the line, “will be behind the lady with the three screaming kids. If you hurry.”
“Won’t take a minute,” he pleaded.
That naturally should have convinced me. It didn’t. I am an inconsiderate sort. “Take all the time you want. It’ll be easy to find your place. It’ll be right behind the old geezer behind the lady with three screaming kids.”
The idiot gave me something less than an appreciative look and went off, I suppose to find a basket, cart, or little flatcar.
I work hard at being an idiot. Fortunately, there are experts out there. Mentors. There are lessons to be learned.