By Stan Stewart.
I miss queues. They gave me time to think, to watch people and be part of an orderly crowd. Also, I kind -of fell in love (infatuated) with one or two of the young women bank tellers - so beautiful in their semi-formal bank attire. These days I don’t get any buzz at all when entering my code on a keypad on a windy sidewalk or entering my PIN number on my mobile phone.
My most vivid queue memory must be when I accompanied my 83-year-old mother-in-law, Eileen, to a busy bank on the Gold Coast, in Queensland. It was peak time and there were three queues. All was going well until Eileen reached the teller. The teller was an attractive young woman with a kind face. Her first words to Eileen were, “How are you today?” That was a mistake. Eileen proceeded to tell her how she was.
Now it so happened Eileen had been brooding. “I am the only one in my family who doesn’t own a car,” she said. “I have eleven children and every one of them has a car. Don’t you think I should have a car?” She fixed her gaze on the teller. The teller said nothing but kept on smiling. Eileen interpreted the teller’s smile to be supportive. “Do you think I could learn to drive a car?” My guess is that nothing in her bank training had prepared the teller for this. The teller kept up a nervous smile. Eileen took this to indicate her support.
Then Eileen moved onto her neighbour. An inconsiderate neighbour had smashed her lawn mower. She had loaned it and that’s what happened. “What do you think of that?” The teller said nothing but kept up her smile. Eileen didn’t realise it, but by now she had captured the attention of everyone in the bank. Finally, the teller was able to get in; “I am so sorry, but how can I help you today?”
Eileen interpreted her timid smile to mean, “Go on” and she did. “Well, the only reason I have let my children bring me to the Gold Coast was so I could see the polar bear. I came once before to see him, but he slept the whole day.” “Disappointing,” said the Teller, “But what can we do for you today?” The bank was close to the bear’s theme-park home. Eileen seemed to believe that anyone who lived that close to the bear must have an idea as to how to wake him up. She persisted in asking the kind-faced teller for advice. All conversation in the three queues had stopped. Eileen was now the only show in town. Finally, the teller was able to get a word in. “I am sorry I can’t help you with the bear, but I can help you with your banking” she blurted. A little disgruntled, Eileen moved to her banking business which was to withdraw some money to have another try at seeing if the theme park bear was awake. When at last we exited, I noticed the teller had left her booth and I think I saw a few people in the queues were softly clapping. I wasn’t.
Eileen is long gone now. I have told that story at family gatherings several times. It always gets a laugh and provokes other stories and beautiful Eileen is with us again.
Interactions used to happen in queues every day – a few of them funny, some of them annoying and most inconsequential. My point is they all presented us with an opportunity to pause for a few moments and stand near other individuals. For a few minutes (sometimes frustratingly longer), we were part of the human tribe. Certainly, I can remember some abrasive interactions, but mostly the experience was okay and sometimes pleasant and warming.
The keypads and the codes have made us more isolated. I don’t need to leave my home (my bed) to check my mail and do my banking. Many of us can do our daily work in our pyjamas. The only visits we need to make is to our refrigerator and the bathroom.
extra time? Play with our phones? That doesn’t sound healthy, but it is a real possibility. A few years ago, life used to force us to go out and stand in queues with ‘people’. Now with technology in our pocket, it’s no longer necessary. Great? Well, it is if we have absorbing interests in other pursuits that put us in touch with other people. I have been reading ‘The plague of loneliness’ and seemingly it is getting worse.
I am working at being one of these annoying people who talk to people in shops and on the streets. Like Eileen, I want to engage with people whether they like it or not!
Caption: Sleeping Polar Bear.