Americans stand in too many lines

At the Telluride Film Festival, and elsewhere, it's always hurry up and wait.

I have decided (with no research) that the only place Americans spend more time than in bed is standing on line. (I know there is some controversy as to whether it's "in line" or "on line." I prefer "on line" since a line has no width to stand "in." For a number of years I disagreed, strongly, with my wife on this point. Which, no doubt, is why she is my first wife.)

We are a nation of patient line standers. We stand on line from the moment we enter nursery school, queuing up to be stuffed into Michelin Man snowsuits. Then we graduate to waiting for movies, restaurants, buses, taxis, voting booths, supermarket checkouts, hot dog carts, and advice from Dr. Phil.

I bring this up because I've just spent four days standing on line at the Telluride Film Festival. It is a wonderful event held every Labor Day weekend here in a fold in the Rocky Mountains. Now, besides seeing a lot of foreign and American films months before they open, you also have the privilege of waiting an hour to get into every screening.

Yet just because you arrive at an 8 p.m. show at 7 doesn't mean you'll get a seat. Depending on how much money you donated to the Telluride Film Festival, you are assigned to one of three lines: the patron line – big bucks; the pass holder line – semi-big bucks; the ticket buyer line – teeny weeny bucks.

But no matter which line you're on, everyone quietly waits – even though they know they might get rejected. It could happen when you are the 251st person on line in a 250-seat theater. Or when 10 big-buck patrons decide to walk in just before you are seated. No time to kvetch. It's off to another line.

And yet, the majority of line standers in Telluride and the rest of this country are endlessly patient. Most Americans silently endure haughty maître d's who force us to wait despite the reservation we made three years ago. We wait on line to make purchases. Then we wait longer to return them. We wait for stamps at the post office while the clerk discusses the civil service test with the person in front of us. We very slowly wait in drive-through fast-food lanes. We wait for the Cubs to win something. Anything.

True, we all know a few impatient line standers – those who, after enduring any wait more than 13 seconds, initiate a lawsuit. They're the same people who send everything back in a restaurant.

Even the most tolerant of line standers boils over eventually. That finally happened in Telluride. At the beginning of a very good English film, "When Was The Last Time You Saw Your Father?" the protagonist finds himself stuck in a traffic jam on the way to a motor speedway. His frustration building, he snarls, "Paying all this money just to stand in line!"

The audience – spontaneously – burst into applause. Me, too.

• Chuck Cohen is a writer in Mill Valley, Calif.

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