I am not staring; staring is rude. I’m observing. I’m sitting in the waiting room at my dentist’s office along with four other people. One is talking on his phone and the other three are contemplating their phone screens. Trust me; they wouldn’t notice if I was staring—which I’m not.
I’m not judging either. It’s all I can do to keep from pulling out my own smartphone, checking my email, sending a text or two, and telling all my Facebook friends where I am. I’m sure everyone would like to know I’m having my teeth cleaned today.
But I refrain. I believe there are benefits to waiting without an electronic crutch, chief among them is learning to wait, which has never been one of my strong suits.
It’s not my fault. I’ve had bad experiences waiting. Once at a restaurant, my husband and I waited to be seated for what seemed like hours but was probably only 45 minutes. Good thing we finally checked to see where our name was on the call list, because it wasn’t.
Worse than that, I once spent what seemed like days, but was probably only 30 minutes, waiting in an examination room. Finally, I stuck my head into the hallway and ask a nurse if my doctor had been called away on an emergency. She was as shocked to see me as she would have been to see the doctor. He wasn’t scheduled to be in that day.
It’s experiences like those that keep me from taking this patience thing too far. If I were too good at waiting, I might still be sitting there. But I could stand to improve at the waiting game, though “game” implies it’s a lot more fun than it is.
I’ve developed a routine for those times when I’m forced to wait, whether it’s in a restaurant, at the mechanic’s or in line at a public restroom. Instead of taking out my phone, I force myself to relax and observe my surroundings. Anyone watching me would think I was casing the joint, but nobody is watching me. They’re all looking at their phones.
I check out the décor or lack of it. What’s the layout? Where’s the drinking fountain. Do they have coffee? I don’t drink coffee, but if they have coffee maybe they have tea—or cocoa or a sundae bar. (Obviously, I’ve never seen a sundae bar while I’ve been waiting in line at a public restroom—nor would I want to.)
Where are the exits? Where’s the thermostat? I never touch it, but it’s not like the people staring at their phones would notice if I did.
If the waiting room has a television, I look for the remote. I don’t ever change it, or at last I don’t ever admit to changing it. But who would see me if I did? They’re too busy looking at their small screens to notice what happens to the big one.
Finally, I observe my fellow waiters—as in those who wait, not those who serve those who wait. What do they look like? What are they wearing? If they’re talking on their phone, what are they talking about? I have a column to write, you know.
After I’ve taken in everything, I ponder, daydream, and otherwise relax until I can’t stand it anymore. Then and only then do I take out my phone. In this way, I’m becoming more patient and more observant, theoretically anyway. And bonus, and this is no small thing, I’m also reducing my chances of leaving my phone all over town.
(Dorothy Rosby is the author of several humor books, including I Used to Think I Was Not That Bad and Then I Got to Know Me Better. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.)