Shortest line’s the slowest

An aphorism that for me rings truest is “The shortest line is the slowest.” I can’t think of many things in life more profound.

As one who hates keeping people waiting in line, whether in a bank, supermarket, big box or anywhere else, I sympathized with a gentleman in front of me at Wal-Mart last week who used the wrong card to charge his goods.

As soon as he realized his mistake, I sensed we were going to be there for extra innings. Whether the customer was close to being over the limit on the card, or he simply preferred to use another, we never found out. By that time, a couple of customers behind me started getting impatient. The checker, not knowing how to cancel the transaction, needed assistance from customer service and went into rush mode, which means about one step every 12 seconds.

More… She returned with a male clerk who told the man in front of me, “It’s a done deal. There’s no way we can reverse it.” Then a third employee came to save the day. She explained, “You’ll need to go to customer service and refund all these items (the man had chosen that day to do the month’s shopping, apparently), and then we’ll ring all of them up again, this time with the right card.”

The circuitous route must have been worth it to the man, as he exchanged every item for every item.

I’d rather be the holdee-up than the holder-up. If someone ahead of me takes extra time, it bothers me less than if I were to be the one to say, “You charged me 59 cents for that cup, and the price at the shelf says it’s only 54 cents.” I’d rather pay extra, or cancel the sale than to demand a price check, which usually takes as long as it does for the Raiders to score.

As an inveterate shopper, I see all kinds. Though many use the debit card for all their purchases, some complete every transaction by extracting every coin, and getting none back: “Let’s see, I have the 37 cents somewhere, maybe in the other purse.”

Several years ago, I took about 20 rolls of quarters for deposit at a local bank. I had barely entered the lobby when a stentorian teller said, “You HAVE to put your account number on all of them.” Now, most customers don’t appreciate being told they HAVE to do anything or for the help to imply the customer is being accorded a great honor.

So I peddled my coins at the State Employees Credit Union. At the time, Gloria Ortiz was an account manager and she couched the policy of the CU in different terms: “Mr. Trujillo (she knew I had a name), we need your account number on each roll of coins. May I get you a cup of coffee while I help you record the numbers?”

We appreciate that kind of service.

And many years ago, when people had pass books for their savings accounts, I invested a dollar to open an account. The new (or perhaps newly remodeled) First National Bank didn’t appear to have long lines. I either paid for or got free a bank that looked like a high- quality book. Some of the classics, by Twain, Crane and Spillane sometimes come with gilt-edges. The bank book would have graced any collector’s shelf. There was a slot on top for coins and a notch in back for currency.

The thrill of using this kind of piggy bank was in watching Mr. Charles Keyes, one of the tellers, as he unlocked it and counted all the money. That went straight into savings, and in no time, the $40 I had invested accrued interest of almost a dollar. But in those days, 2 percent interest was real, and a dollar could buy things.

Contrast that to a mail offer of a $30,000 loan I got yesterday (and many other yesterdays), in which the magnanimous spiel was a 6.9 percent rate. But read the fine print: Well, it seems that not everybody qualifies for such a great rate, but they can assure me that if they make the loan, it will not be more than 29.9 percent.

Geez, a payday loan might be cheaper.


On May 10 will be the third installment of the fledgling Las Vegas Old Timers Living History Project. Previous discussions have covered Las Vegas of yesteryear (the ‘40s and ‘50s), and local educational issues. The first forum featured Petey Salman, Molly Garcia, Ernie Quintana, Editha Bartley and me. The second included Erminio Martinez, Manuel Pacheco, Tito Chavez and me.

Next Thursday’s forum, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church, will include three members of the Mama Lucy Gang, a powerful group of central and northern New Mexico Democrats who changed things in a big way in the state capital a few decades ago. We have commitments from David “Duke” Salman, Samuel F. Vigil and Al Castillo, all longtime former New Mexico house members.

If any of you were affiliated with the Mama Lucys or wish to know more about them, please plan to attend. The program is free. Thanks to a grant from the church’s Mustard Seed Fund; the church features an excellent sound system and comfortable seating, and we’ll even throw in a complimentary glass of tea.

For those of you too young in town or too young period, the Mama Lucy gang threw some local Hispanic weight into the Roundhouse where it had been lacking for years. Many Las Vegans met at what is now the Plaza Hotel to discuss their passion: politics.

One thought on “Shortest line’s the slowest

  1. Adam

    Your Wal-Mart experience made me thing about the Dairy Queen model for efficient and timely service. (Which is pretty much the way McDonald’s works in Denmark, by the way.) But thinking about Dairy Queen made me think about Larry Spraig. Seems like there’s a column in that subject. Even though I was too young to fully appreciate him, in retrospect he seems like quite the character.

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