Standing in line: A Christmas tradition

Posted: Sunday, December 13, 2009

I stood in line for the Governor's Christmas Open House this year. We get so few opportunities to stand in line in Juneau - I just didn't want to miss it. Evidently some 3,000 of my friends and neighbors felt the same way.

The line wound around three sides of the Governor's Mansion. I'm not a good judge of numbers - let's just say there were lots and lots of people there. It was cold. It wasn't raining or blowing, so it could have been worse. That seems to be the Juneauite's mantra when it comes to the weather - it could be worse.

But as long lines go, this one was quite entertaining. I was served cookies and hot cider, I enjoyed strolling carolers and a bit of political debate over an initiative petition, and I felt a strong sense of community among strangers and friends alike. Plus, I got to take part in a Christmas tradition for the very first time.

Maybe I don't get out enough, but the truth is, sometimes I like standing in line. I'm probably the only one in town who likes taking my holiday packages to the post office at Christmastime. I get to stand in a line stretching back to the post office boxes, filled with people sending holiday cheer to their loved ones. I almost always see someone I know there, and I enjoy that same sense of community.

I think I enjoy these lines mainly due to their rareness in my experience. Normal, everyday life in Juneau does not include much line-standing, unless you're an elementary school kid, of course.

In school, standing in line is an essential life skill, right up there with multiplication. It's one of the four Rs: reading, writing (not really an R, but what are you going to say?), raising your hand before speaking and remaining quiet in line. Good luck with that, teachers.

But for the rest of us grownups here in Juneau, we're just not used to standing in line. If I have two people ahead of me at Fred Meyer's, I start huffing and puffing, feeling like my precious time is being wasted. I just don't have the daily conditioning needed for the ultimate in line standing: the amusement park.

Think Disney here, folks. You may think that Disney World is all about magic and a celebrity mouse and exciting rides. Nope. It's all about the lines. You'll spend more time in line at Disney World than doing any other activity. Disney planners have worked hard to perfect the psychology of standing in line. You can rarely see the entire line at any given point. Some of it is inside, some of it is outside, it winds around; so you can't look at it and know just what you're getting yourself into. If you did, you'd probably just give up and head for the beaches.

My worst line-standing experience took place in Disneyland one hot summer day. I stood in line with my 4-year-old child for 45 minutes waiting to ride Dumbo. Now some would question whether Dumbo truly rates a forty-five minute wait. I really couldn't tell you.

As we neared the front of the line, when it was almost our turn, the child had to go to the bathroom. When you're 4 years old, you really can't hold it for a few more minutes.

At that moment, I discovered a little known characteristic of Disney lines. They go one way only. They are not designed for someone to try to get out of them by any other route than riding the attraction itself. We had to push and squeeze past hundreds of people to make it to the restroom in time. She never did get to ride on Dumbo.

At least the line at the Governor's Mansion led me to the warmth and cheer inside. I got to shake hands with the Governor and see my daughter sing with the Alaska Youth Choir. As a performer, she got to go in the back door and bypass the line. Too bad, really. She missed out on one of the rare opportunities to stand in line in Juneau.

• Peggy McKee Barnhill is a wife, mother and aspiring children's author who lives in Juneau. She likes to look at the bright side of life.

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