Commentary: Waiting in Long Lines

By Edward P. Noga

In April 1994, millions of South Africans stood in line for hours to cast their votes. 

It was the first time that all South Africans were allowed to vote. It followed years of civil strife and apartheid rule.

Repression, civil unrest and racism abounded in the years that led up to that election.

International mediators did their best to quell the unrest. They usually ended up leaving, their goal unachieved. Eventually, the long-imprisoned Nelson Mandela stood before a watching world as he and his party garnered over 60% of the votes. The long lines at the polling stations mesmerized the world.

It was something to see, especially for Americans who too often take for granted their right to vote.

Long lines have been an aspect of our seven-month pandemic. Who would ever have thought that you might have to stand in line to get into your favorite store? Who would ever have thought that standing in line would be part of our daily routines?

Long lines now are part of renewing our drivers’ licenses and other public activities we take for granted. Definitely, there seems to be a new definition of long lines when we see the aerial photos of cars, vans and trucks snaking their way through a food giveaway site.

Long lines have been part of the virus testing process. Long lines are part of getting a box of facemasks.

Long lines are part of the new normal and they have become a part of our lives in an unprecedented way. Did you ever think that churches would take reservations as public worship slowly comes back?

As we walk or drive through our communities, we have become accustomed to seeing long lines.

In a country where we can use a drive-thru to easily get a meal, a cup of coffee or our prescriptions, we simply are not used to long lines.

Conversely, the places where we have been accustomed to long lines have gone in reverse.

Opening night of a new movie once guaranteed a long line.

Airports were another long-line site. Now these lines have disappeared as travel options become limited.

Sports events, especially the post-season playoffs, once meant extra long lines and time spent talking with people you had never met until that day.

The same can be said for attendance at a concert that features your favorite musical performer or group.

With the national election just around the corner, it looks like there will be lines of a different sort.

There may – or may not – be extra long lines at the polling places. But the lines at early voting sites and the lines to the mailbox for mail-in ballots have certainly drawn the 
attention of our community news outlets.

Of course, what is most important is that we vote. This year’s election has taken a turn as unsettling as the virus. Unprecedented should be capitalized when we talk about what is going on.

Our voting procedure is simple and easy. The effort to study the issues and candidates sometimes gets sidelined. When that happens, we read over a list of candidates or some ballot proposal on Election Day and wonder who or what to vote for because we haven’t done our homework.

I keep thinking of the long lines back in 1994 in South Africa and the willingness of people to wait and wait and wait to cast their ballots. I was captivated.

Long lines are going to be with us for a while. Admittedly, there are some long lines we miss that are not part of our daily routines.

How about waiting in line for your favorite summer 
evening ice cream treat? Bring that line back!

Many of the current long lines have slowed us down and helped us to realize what’s really important.

March, April, May, June, July, August, September and now October. It’s been a long time with some very long lines.

Think how much we will appreciate the “other” long lines that we yearn for!

 Line up! Stay safe! Keep in touch with those you love and those you miss! We will be standing in line with them again.