It’s no wonder the most emblematic play of the past century is Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” first performed in 1953. It’s about that inescapable fact of all of our lives: waiting.
In that strange work, two hapless vagabonds, Vladimir and Estragon, wait constantly for the arrival of a mysterious somebody called Godot (pronounced Goh-DOH), who turns out to be a no-show. As they keep waiting, the two curmudgeons indulge in all sorts of verbal banter and deadpan hijinks just to pass the time. “Godot” is about time, about waiting, about grasping for straws of meaning to ward off nothingness. It’s typically Irish – that is, bleak-but-funny.
These days, Vladimir, Estragon and Godot often tramp across my mind. It’s because I’ve learned as one gets older, one becomes all too aware of how waiting can kill time – precious time dwindling away like sand through an hourglass.
Time experts claim the average person spends the equivalent of five-years’-time waiting for this, that and the other thing: red lights, traffic jams, doctor appointments, check-out lines, for the phone to ring when expecting good news (or bad), for someone to arrive who’s habitually late (or like Godot, doesn’t show, period).
That’s depressing news: FIVE years of time, just waiting. Imagine that. Horrors! It’s even more depressing for us reporters, who – I would bet – spend SIX years, at least, waiting. I cannot count the hundreds if not thousands of meetings I have covered for newspapers. Some – a few here and there – were interesting; most were not. Not at all. There was a five-hour school-board meeting one time that was not only dull, it was so intolerable I swear I felt wrinkles growing on my face, my hair turning grayer. I sat there, waiting for board members to say something, to make up their minds as they a-hemmed-and-a-hawed, or to get to the point of what they were trying to say. What’s worse is that after their marathon gab-fest, nothing was resolved.
Reporters also frequently have to hurry-up-and-wait – especially for certain photo-taking assignments. You arrive on time, but then the herding-of-cats begins.
“Mr. Reporter, could you wait awhile? Judy’s not here yet. OK, here comes Judy. Now where did Charlie go? Gotta wait for Charlie. Hey, you kids – could you go see where Tom and Chelsea are?”
Finally, cats all herded and grinning, you take the photo.
“Whoops, can you take the photo again? Because here comes Hannah. She really should be in the picture, too.”
Other waiting ordeals that rob my time are variations of the ones all mortals endure, reporters or not:
Waiting for decent spring weather so I can finally plant a garden.
Waiting for the water to boil for my cup of morning coffee. It’s an absolute truism a watched pot never boils! As soon as I turn my back on that pot of water, it boils over.
Waiting in grocery-store lines when my luck always turns abysmal, when “problems” occur in the line ahead of me: haggles over expired coupons, price checks, misers picking out coins – slowly! – one at a time from little coin purses, people indulging in slow-as-molasses penmanship demonstrations as they fill out their checks. Meantime, the sand is falling fast through my hourglass.
I’ve learned to avoid some time-killer situations. One is the set of lights at Division Street and Waite Avenue in Waite Park. Never has an avenue been so aptly named: Waite, wait and wait some more. That red light there has to be the longest-timed one in the universe. I’ve grown old waiting there: more wrinkles, more sagging jowls, more white hairs. I’ve considered bringing one of those long Russian novels to read while waiting for that light to change. I’ve worried about running out of gas while stuck there. I’ve thought about taking naps, my wake-up alarm being the angry honks behind me to get a move on.
I finally had sense enough to solve that dilemma. I now avoid Waite Avenue like the plague. I figure I’ve added a week, at least, to my life.