Waiting Games

How many lines have you stood in this month? Last month? Last year? What do you do while you're waiting? Think about sex? Hate the people in front of you? Think about sex? Replay a marital fight? Count money? Think about sex?

Some people envision their weekend while standing in line. Some people pray. Some people imagine finishing the next chore on their list. Some people plan a crime. And some play games.

Games while waiting for a trolley. Games while waiting for the first pitch. Waiting for the carpool. Waiting for the movie to start. Waiting for your woman to get dressed. Waiting for your man to fix the shower leak. Or the reverse. Waiting for technical support.

Then, there is the magna mater of waiting, the aboveforementioned Waiting-in-Line, a category so vast it spawned countless subcategories. A few crowd-pleasers are: grocery store, college registration, post office, anything to do with the military, anything to do with medicine, anybody's justice system, airports, international border crossings, and major league sports stadia. Generally, the poorer you are, the longer the line (welfare office, food stamps, emergency-room medicine); and the richer you are, the shorter the line. When was the last time you saw a line at a Ferrari dealership? Very rich people don't stand in lines.

But, to get back to games and waiting. What is your best memory of playing a game while waiting? Put computer keyboard to hand and tell me about it. I'll place the best ones in a column. Here is mine.

The subcategory is Waiting-For-This-To-End. Picture a Mexican third-class bus running from Mexico City to Oaxaca. It's midnight. I'm traveling with Genisia Sharett, an Israeli woman I met in Isla Mujeres. She's a road pro, speaks four languages, was a medic in the Israeli army, and has traveled all her life. Our bus has the standard Day of the Dead motif, with icons hanging from the driver's rearview mirror and a Virgin Mary statue superglued to the dash. All passengers are peasants or Indians except for us. Take the number of people that can be seated on the bus and double it, just like in the movies. Now add two army guys and their rifles, just like in the movies. Baggage is roped to the roof just like in the movies. We are standing in the aisle with twice as many people as the aisle can be expected to hold. The human stink is overpowering. Backs, elbows, butts, and legs brush against each other as the bus goes thumpa-thumpa down the highway.

The bus comes into a darkened village and stops. It's got to be 2 o'clock in the morning. I see a tall, lanky American kid. He's holding one of those huge Kelty backpacks. It's brand new and way too big. The driver and a passenger get out, manhandle his backpack up to the roof and tie it down. They return to the bus, followed by the American. The fellow's face has that zombie pasty-white look, just like in the movies.

The bus jerks forward. Our man spots us, the only other non-natives on the bus, and over the next 20 minutes, makes his way, one inch at a time, into the belly of the bus, until he's standing next to us.

Introductions. He's from Providence, Rhode Island. College student. Never traveled before. Came down here with his girlfriend, in her van. They had a fight, she left him in that village.

It's 3 o'clock in the morning. I've been sweating from the heat of twice-too-many people, so I'm dehydrated. I have a king-hell headache. My bones hurt from standing and my eyes burn. By the way, nobody gets off the bus. Every once in a while the bus will stop and take on one passenger, occasionally two, but no one ever gets off.

Rhode Island is not doing well. He's taking shallow, quick breaths. I figure he's going to collapse or he's going to start speaking in tongues. I ask, "Have you ever played Botticelli?"

Botticelli is a word game. Someone thinks of a famous person's name...say, Groucho Marx. Another player asks "yes" or "no" questions. Is this person a man? Is this person alive? Is this person in politics? The first time I answer, "No," the questioning moves to the next player. This continues until the famous person is named or until the players give up. Then, another person thinks of a name and onward into tedium.

Rhode Island is hyperventilating. Genisia tells him, "Think of a question!" or I say, "Pick a name. We'll do the asking." Every time we spot him drifting away, one of us is there to drag him back. 3 a.m. 4 a.m. 5 a.m. 6 a.m. 7 a.m....

We got him to Oaxaca. I slept for two days. Genisia started working at the women's center.

The Vegas Line can be found at SanDiegoReader.com. Click on "Sporting Box"

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