The line stretched to the end of the block where it turned and continued, a mass of huddled people blowing on their hands and jumping up and down in the chilly pre-dawn illuminated by a few streetlights and cellphones.
We walked opposite the line, looking for its end while scanning for the faces of friends. By the time we found the hairpin turn of humanity and joined its slow shuffle toward the front, we’d almost completely circled a city block.
Then we waited, periodically checking the time to see how long it took to reach the bus loading zone at the front.
The lines we wait in are like a snapshot, a microcosm of society. They say something about who we are, what we value and what opportunities we have.
I’m lucky. I was waiting to run a half marathon in Missoula. Just for fun, I chose to rise before the sun and wait in line with my husband and hundreds of other people. I value fitness and family and can afford to travel across state lines to run a race.
A couple weeks ago the iPhone 6 line outside the Apple store was another such snapshot.
If you could judge a crowd by that picture, the camp chairs, coolers and casual hip clothes at a working weekday wait for a device that costs hundreds of dollars, you might guess many of the people in line have plenty of discretionary income and time.
But I’m not judging. While I don’t share the heady anticipation of the latest trendy techno gadget, I know most of the lines I stand in as a middle class American are lines of privilege and pleasure.
I’ve waited to ride roller coasters with my kids, to eat ice cream cones as big as my head, to listen to a musician or comic with friends, or watch a live football game with hundreds of fervent fans wearing the same colors.
I’ve waited in line to fly across the country and I’ve waited in line to buy a single serving of my favorite flavor of coffee, even though I could just as easily make it at home.
Probably because I wasn’t in it, the iPhone lines around the country reminded me just how lucky I am.
It brought to mind the contrasting queue of hopeful people I’ve seen at the Spokane County fairgrounds, waiting to pick out a book and present for each of their children at the Christmas Bureau.
It also made me remember when I was about 9 and saw a line stretching through the parking lot at the bingo hall. The people waiting were bundled in coats and hats, their heads down and shoulders up, braced against the wind.
“What are they waiting for?” I asked my mom, curious. It didn’t make sense that all those people wanted to play bingo. She said they were waiting for food, perhaps for a meal or a block of cheese and a can of beans.
I was surprised and wondered out loud why they would wait in the cold for a little bit of food that could easily be bought at the grocery store down the street. She explained that affording food wasn’t so easy for everyone.
That’s true today all over the globe.
In February, The Guardian published an AP photo of the food line at the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria. It’s a heart-wrenching picture at another segment of society. The people stand shoulder-to-shoulder, hemmed in by decimated buildings in a mass of hungry and hurting humanity that stretches out of sight.
It’s a sobering juxtaposition to the fun-filled wait at the starting line of Bloomsday. There, too, the queue keeps going and going, the masses held in place by buildings on each side. But at Spokane’s most popular running event the buildings aren’t broken, the participants aren’t hungry or homeless and when the gun goes off it sparks a celebration.
Most of my line waiting has been like that, fun and frivolous, an opportunity rather than a necessity. And for that, I’m grateful.
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