Wednesday, May 22, 2013

In Line, On Line, Off Line

If you have strong feelings about whether we stand in line or on line then you may not want to read this. But I think you’re up to the challenge. I think you can handle me using the terms interchangeably, letting colloquial usage win over grammatical correctness. Welcome: This is how a former English major walks on the wild side.

So I’m standing in line at the drug store and a lady gets on line behind me. I immediately feel better about myself because she is now officially The Last Person In Line. (Small victories, people. Small victories.)  As she’s standing there something catches her eye and she leaves the line to check it out, saying to me over her shoulder:  “I’m behind you.”

What? No! No, you’re not!

I’m behind you. These three words created a social contract between us. While she’s gone a-gallivanting it’s up to me to defend her place in line. Did I mention I was on line at a drug store in the hood? This could end badly.

If another shopper got in line behind me, I’d now be honor bound to say, “I’m holding this spot for someone.” I can see the combination stink eye/neck roll now; the tendrils of smoke oozing out of angry nostrils. The new Line Joiner would be well within their rights to invoke the, “You move, you lose clause.” And then what? How far do I take this: chest thumping; matrilineal recriminations; a full-on physical confrontation that lands us on the floor in a pile of Chapstick, Snickers, and hand sanitizer?

The cops would be called. I’d be on the news, perp-walked above the news ticker “Riot at Rite Aid!” And now I’ve done gone and caught a case just because I needed nail polish remover. “Your Honor, what had happened was...”  But in this worst case scenario the judge would be unmoved. She’d make an example out of me and I’d end up in a jail cell singing, “Roxanne.”  You see my predicament or at the very least my hyper-active imagination.

I could avoid this by taking the diplomatic route. When The Deserter returns I could just let her get back on line in front of me. The person behind me might only be mildly pissed (instead of second amendment pissed). The Deserter would happily accept my generosity because it puts her one step closer to the register and me one step further away, which was probably part of her nefarious plan all along.

What should have happened? The woman behind me should have waited until someone got on line behind her. She could have then said to that person: “Can you please watch my spot?” Most people say yes to this. (Although saying no might be fun too, just to see the look on their face.) And the best part of doing it this way is that I am not involved at all. No impromptu social contracts, no fisticuffs, no “Roxanne.”

In general though, if you’ve left the line and no one’s behind you, guess what? You’ve left the line. It’s like you weren’t even there. Take the loss. Come back when you’re ready. The line will be there or if you’re lucky maybe it won’t.

What bothered me most about this violation of in line, on line etiquette is that I’d been standing there waiting patiently for someone to get on line behind me so that I could ask them to watch my spot. This lack of courtesy is the slippery slope to anarchy is it not? Okay, maybe not but it does give me a good case of the cranky. This kinda thing doesn’t happen on the internet. Thank you, Net Neutrality. So if anyone wants me, I’ll be online at Amazon.

Thanks for reading The Urban Erma. You can subscribe to the blogcast (yes, I made up this word) FREE on iTunes. And, in case you were wondering, in addition to blogging I am also an amazing stand-up comedian. I do "Thinking Cap Comedy." Basically, if comedy were music, I'd be Jazz. Want to see a show? Check out my schedule at @


JustSaying said...

OK, but what about this:
Where I live, in downtown New Rochelle, there's a Main Street grocery place -- basically a large fruit and vegetable place -- where the people have developed a strange custom. Instead of carrying their little plastic basket around, they leave it by the register, then roam around the store collecting stuff and dropping it into the basket one item at a time.
When they put in the last item, they think that they are then entitled to step in front of you and get checked out immediately because, even if THEY weren't on line (or "in line," though I prefer "on"), their BASKET was there ahead of you.
Does that make any sense to you?

Leighann Lord said...

NO! STOP IT! You're kidding right? Unbelievable. I'm sure this has led to a few ... misunderstandings has it not? :-) Thanks for sharing. This would truly drive me bananas. (Pun intended.)