Thursday, May 01, 2008


I had to return something at Best Buy tonight and I was already in a sour mood of sorts. Sir Saunders called me on the way and he told me about his grandmother’s funeral and it sounded like such beautiful event with much love. It improved my mood just talking to him which is usually the case. We were still on the phone when the Best Buy door guy tags my return with a sticker and I head to the line.

As I get closer to customer service I see that no one is at any register, then coming up on my right is a guy with a big Bose box. As we both get closer he speeds up to try and beat me there. Now I’m on the phone and only half take in what’s happening. Steve and I are discussing whether we can go biking Saturday and still make niece Maddie’s first birthday party. So as this guy tries to beat me to the line, by instinct I speed up to and beat the guy to the register.

He says to me, “I need to sit this on the counter” so I move up a few feet and continue with Saunders. Not long after a girl comes to the register and helps him. He doesn’t say anything. Saunders, I think, can tell that I’m distracted and we end the phone conversation.

I'm sure most people would have said nothing, but you know me. So I said, “Hey, why did you cut in front of me. You said you wanted to sit your box on the counter?”

He said, “I was here first.”

I said, “You were behind me.”

He said, “She already had my paperwork.”

The cashier said not a thing during the exchange. And even though he was a bigger guy than me, he sheepishly left on the paperwork line and hustled to the door.

Looking back, the way he tried to get ahead of me makes sense if he was worried about being in an awkward position, because he was mid-transaction, and no authority figure was present to vouch for him.

I’ve been in similar situations before. I wait my turn in line and when the customer service person returns he/she decides whether to bring me to the front of the line. I don’t take it for granted that I am next when the only other person in line has never seen me. He could have set his box on the floor and waited for her to return.

More importantly, if you ask a person to let you sit something on the counter and then it looks like you took that opportunity to jump the line, the answer isn’t I was here first, but you apologize for the misunderstanding and then explain. And I think that was the uncomfortable part, his having to explain the situation to a scary stranger. This wasn’t some kid, but a guy around 40 years old and he looked successful.

That's what makes this story interesting to me. He's too proud for a humble explanation and yet a part of him acts like he did something wrong and he needs to defend himself. He's lost without an authority figure.


Dude said...

There's always the guy who cuts in line when he senses weakness. It's the same guy who will always bet when you check.

Marci was waiting in line to register at the campsite last Friday and after I parked the car, I joined her in line. When the person being helped left the window, some burly guy filled the vacuum without a word. Marci said out loud "go right ahead" but he never looked back. I got there too late to know who arrived first, so I did nothing, but when Marci said that in frustration, I got the hint. I said, loud enough for everyone, "well, you know, it's not how long you've been waiting that matters, but how fast you can get to the window." He didn't hear or didn't show it but after a quick question, he was gone, without glancing our way.

Whenever someone cuts in line, I am always reminded of the guy in Atlanta who cut the nice lady in line for the payphone during the rain delay while we were interviewing her on camera. He actually had the phone in hand and was digging for change when we challenged him. He denied the charge and we threatened to roll back the tape and have a look, so he acquiesced. She was appreciative and we were the chivalrous guys. Funny how that has stuck with me. Marci didn't get the same chivalry since I was slow to notice the offense.

Dr. Saunders said...

On the other hand, I was the guy who cut in line at the Southwest Airline line up. I had arrived at 4am, in Vegas (yeah that same time we all met up there together) and went to sleep. When I awoke, there was a long line just beside me. I got up and stood up where I was and the guy behind said, "Hey sleepy head, back of the line." When I didn't comply, he went and got a ticket agent who sided with grouchy. I complied, then actually wound up getting a single seat at on the front row where I wanted anyway. I caught grouchy's eye who was sitting in 35D with his 3 kids and the wife and said, "Amen brother, the first shall be last and the last shall be first." Then I ordered a Scotch and went back to sleep.

E said...

When there are two lanes merging and everyone is single file with the left lane empty, I drive right up to the merge point, passing all the suckers who could have done the same. Sometimes a passive-aggressive type will pull out over the center line to make his statement and I am happy to go around him. My wife thinks this is a character flaw, and who knows, she may be right. A ruling from the J Boys please.

Tom said...

For the sake of courtesy and efficiency I think motorists should try and get over as soon as they see the merge warning. It's the bottleneck from last second mergers that cause most of the traffic. By crowding to the front you are getting through faster than others, but also contributing to a slower flow which hurts you overall.

I think it's an example of how being courteous is more self serving than pushing through.

Dude said...

I vote character flaw. I think the maneuver is in clear violation of the social contract that is implicit in the early merge.

E said...

Actually the physics of traffic are such that the traffic flows most smoothly if both lanes merge up at the merge point. Everyone in a long single line causes an exaggerated effect due to slow accelerators as you move back the line, akin to stopping and restarting an assembly line. I learned of this years ago in a business book called THE GOAL. PennDOT finally got wise to this and started posting flashing signs that say "MERGE AT MERGE POINT" prior to lane-closing highway construction projects to avoid the negative effects of the long courteous line.

Absent such a sign, it is the violation of the social contract that so upsets wife, Dude, and the center line crosser. So I will have more to think about the next time I do it.

Tom said...

But isn't it true that if everyone were to merge before the bottleneck the bottleneck will never occur? And if it is done soon enough traffic won't stop anywhere.

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