20 December, 2008

Express Lanes, Express Aisles, Express Buses

Express is a big deal in this country. Maybe it is a big deal in other countries as well. It does not seem to be a big deal in places like Belize, or Hawaii. And from what I can tell, it did not seem to be a big deal in Paris or Germany either, though their trains do seem to move a lot faster than ours.

But here, we are all about getting everything, and going everywhere, as fast as is humanly possible. And that is not always humanly possible. The primary reason for this is that there are now too many humans in most of the places that we are all trying to go. Hence, there has been the invention of the concept of "Express". What this always means is that if you obey or meet certain requirements or criteria, you can possibly get there faster. Although, a better way of stating it would be that if you meet certain criteria or requirements, you can be segregated from the rest of the cattle, and stand at least a reasonable chance of getting there faster.

If you put more people in your car, then you can drive in the express lane, because you are (possibly) carpooling, and trying to help the environment. Ironically, if you just happened to be a family that spewed out 5 children, you also get the privilege of riding in the express lane, because... um... well, I don't know why.

If you only have 10 items in your grocery cart, then you can go in a lane for people that only have 10 items. The idea is that you're just going in real quick to get a few things, and why should you wait behind the family that just drove all the way there in the express lanes, and is now running 400 items through the register at Costco.

If you want to go from Point A to Point B, and you're willing to walk to Point A, or drive your car to a parking lot at Point A, or you just happen to live directly in front of Point A, and you work at Point B, or don't mind walking to Point B on the other end, then there's an express bus you can take that won't stop every 75 feet, and hypothetically will get there faster than the other buses (though both the express bus and the regular bus both get to drive in the express lanes on the highway).

There are other forms, though more subtle, of "express" concepts. The drive-thru, for example. It is not clear to me if the drive-thru is truly an express avenue, or if its primary benefits are that you can a) buy take-out in your pajamas, b) not need to come into physical contact with any other human beings, c) not need to get out of your vehicle in the cold, rain, wind, etc. 

And one of the interesting things about Express Stuff is that it is not always faster than the non-express. How often have you seen a line of 10 or 12 people with their baskets in the 10 items or less aisle (which, I might note, should say "10 items or fewer", but who's minding grammar anymore, anyway), while there are only 1 or 2 people in the regular aisles? But it's express. It must be faster. Of course, there are a number of ways in which it can not be faster. One big one is when people decide "I have 14 items, but it is really close to 10 items, so I will just do this anyway... because I am in a hurry".


How often have we seen that one? Granted, it is rather arbitrary of a cutoff. 10 items. 9 items. 15 items. What difference does it make? And of course, the type of item matters. If you selected 6 tomatoes and 5 cucumbers, are you over the 10 item limit? Or do you only have 2 items? Does that depend whether you have placed them in plastic bags or not? All of this is very difficult. Maybe they should have a line judge, like they do in a tennis match, who sits in a high chair above the express aisle, and yells "OUT!!!" if you go over the line. There could be interesting ways of enforcing this. For example, how about if you are caught violating the express lane rules, the following penalties could be exacted: a) there would be a 20% surtax on your entire order, or b) your groceries will be taken away from you, and you will be banned from all supermarkets within a 10 mile radius for exactly 2 weeks. I think that either of those decrees would serve as a sufficient deterrent to express lane violations.

And how about the express lane violators on the highway? How often have you wanted to call the "HERO" hotline on one of these people. But... they are late! And they are in a hurry! They just need to get there! What difference does it make? At least do something creative like filling the empty seats in your car with blow-up dolls, or paying $100 to go to a custom shop and have them tint your windows almost completely black, so that we don't know that you're in there alone.

We are all in such a hurry. And there are too many of us. That's the problem. Instead of express lanes, maybe we should just have a mandatory euthanasia lottery every week. At the end of each week, the number of births recorded at all hospitals in the city will be calculated. And then double that number of "death tickets" will be randomly issued in the euthanasia lottery. This would guarantee a net decrease in population, and would create a fair amount of societal suspense as well. And eventually, after a few years or so, we could all get things done a lot more quickly.


  1. the death ticket thing is in an old movie.

  2. I have a sweater that I like, from Express. (Actually, it's Express MEN).

    Maybe it's called expresso because it makes people go faster... Oh wait; it's espresso. I guess that doesn't fit into the Express story. But you could comment on the notion of espressing things like coffee from beans and breastmilk from breasts. Or how about expectorants. Expectant expectorants espressing expresso on the Orient Express!