Some of my most vivid childhood memories involve lines.
Queuing up to sit on Santa's lap every winter at the mall.
Sitting in the back of my parents' Ford LTD, waiting in a line of cars to get gas during the 1973 oil crisis.
Standing for more than two hours to get into the theater to see Star Wars in the summer of '77.
Waiting was such a way of life back then that Mr. Rogers even had a song that preached to a whole generation of young children about the need to be patient as they dutifully took their place in line: Let's think of something to do while we're waiting/ While we're waiting for something new to do/ Let's try to think up a song while we're waiting/ That's liberating and will be true to you.
As I grew up, the lines got longer, and more stressful: The add-drop line at college, the overnight campout lines for concert tickets, the velvet rope lines outside South Beach clubs in the early '90s.
There was a time when the wait made the experience at the other end seem that much better. We celebrated our lines – dressed them up with lawn chairs and coolers and friends. Even when the experiences weren't so great – like the time you slept in a urine-soaked gutter and still didn't get tickets to ACDC – at least you got to brag about it later.
At one time, the typical American reportedly spent two to three years of his or her life waiting in line. I always thought that if I wanted something bad enough, I had to wait for it. But that concept is lost on today's kids. Today, we buy our movie tickets online so we can cruise right in. Rather than stand in line, we scan our own groceries at Winn Dixie, our own hardware at Home Depot and our furniture at Ikea. At Disney, we use our FastPass and Ridemax to minimize lines for rides. We even pick hospital ERs based on the shortest wait times advertised on their billboards.
Our tales of waiting in line have become my generation's three-mile walk to school in the snow. In my memory, the lines were so much longer, the waits so much more agonizing, but the rewards were so much sweeter.
Raised on immediate gratification, kids today will never know the camaraderie of standing in line, the serendipitous things that can happen when you're uncomfortable and out of your element, the mutual moaning among new-found friends. They will never quite get it when someone sings about waiting for the man, waiting for the miracle, waiting on a friend.
Have we lost one of life's valuable lessons in our current culture of convenience? Or is this the opportunity to cut in line we've all been waiting for?