With time to kill, a nosy Parker says, I’ll wait


You may be one of those folks who object to waiting. In a line, for a doctor, for your plane to board, in traffic, for a table in a restaurant. If you are, don’t bridle at my description of you. You are one of billions served, but not quickly enough. You find waiting an irksome, time-wasting inconvenience. I understand.

You prefer things to start on time. You prefer to have the doctor see you at precisely the moment when you were scheduled to see him. You cannot understand why you should get to the airport two hours early for your flight, only to find that the flight time has been delayed 45 minutes because the plane in which you were to fly to Denver was late arriving from Washington to collect you. So, you wait at the gate and grow truculent. It’s natural. Perhaps there’s some underlying pathology, but so what.

For me, I don’t mind waiting. For example, I like the standby line. I like getting into line at Woods Hole an hour and a half before the next ferry, with an open reservation in hand, and 90 minutes of free time, with the possibility that there’ll be 90 minutes tacked onto that. I’ve got plenty to read. The laptop runs off an inverter and drains the car battery slowly. No one else in the family likes waiting, so they’ve jumped on the departing ferry as passengers, leaving me, well, alone.

The prophet Isaiah knew what he was talking about, when he banged out on a B.C. tablet, “Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin … Peace, perfect peace, with loved ones far away … ”

Or, sitting at the gate, waiting for a plane, the cast of characters with whom we will share a few gravity defying hours parades restlessly, dreadlocks tossing, cellphones implanted.

In Logan airport a week ago, I didn’t meet but I watched a bearded Colorado contractor and his wife wait for the plane we were going to take to Denver. He had had surgery in Boston and was navigating on crutches. They were going to a child’s graduation from college, as we were. They sat near us on the plane, we saw them at the Denver airport, and later at the nearby city where the ceremony took place, and in the restrooms in all the places we visited, and in the restaurants. We never spoke, but watching him took the curse off the hour delay.

Elsewhere at the gate, passenger numero uno was a tall, besuited business type, absolutely, meticulously bald. His handsomely turned out plan was to be first to first class, and he won the race. Another traveler, also shaved bald, sporting a backpack, flip-flops, shorts, and a tattoo that sheathed his left leg, explained loudly to the plebes, “You see that guy? You see how this works? Before us, they board the gleaming, shaved, ramrod businessman in the summer-weight suit, then the gold, platinum, titanium, and uranium class passengers, then, I suppose, the air ninjas.” Those in the non-qualifying classes appreciated this guy’s riff.

Also in the lineup for a plane, we met a British couple who wanted to sit side by side. They were not patient waiters, and they asked one of those pressing waiting-room questions. “Is that seat taken?” having in mind the seat next to someone seated nearby. “It is my husband’s seat,” was the reply. The Brit, identifiable by his accent, took the seat directly across from the vacant one and waited, like an irritated turkey vulture. He planned to pounce, and he made his intentions plain. His prey ultimately succumbed, and in the instant she and her husband moved on, the Brits consolidated their gain. Pure, unflinching, unembarrassed social aggression, of the sort one doesn’t normally associate with Brits. None of my business, really, but with drama such as this, the wait is no wait at all.

We visited a place called Seven Falls, a narrow gorge hundreds of feet tall whose walls rise nearly vertically. The seven falls, each with its own name, tumble down between the walls, as they have for long-gone eons. We walked up an almost vertical staircase of more than 200 steps alongside the falls, misted on a very hot day by the tossing water, but only after waiting in line at the bottom and the top for our fellow visitors to move along. Halfway up, when I was descending and he was going up, I met a genial, husky, round-faced, white-haired St. Nick of a man. Grateful for the chance to catch a breath, each of us had to turn sideways and squeeze against the railing to pass. He spoke, and I thought I heard a Scot, but no, he said, he was an Icelander. What a coincidence, I said, we’ve just added a terrific young Icelander to our newspaper’s staff. He wished his compatriot and us good luck and puffed on.

Later, as we sat in front of a restaurant on a Colorado main street, waiting for lunch that we didn’t get till supper time, I saw a thin older man with a wispy white beard that reached to his belt, dressed all in black with a black cowboy hat. He strode the sunlit sidewalk as if he’d just got into town after a month-long cattle drive north from the Pecos. He wore his 9mm Glock outside his pants, as Emmylou Harris might have put it, nodding amiably to the greenhorns in his path.

Thus, waiting rewards the patient, the aimless, the observant, and the nosy.