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Understanding the punctually-challenged

January 7, 2008

by Ivan Raconteur

There are two kinds of people in the world, and it is a wonder that we are able to coexist without bloodshed.

I refer, in this case, not to men and women, but to those other two groups who are almost as different from one another; those who arrive early, and those who arrive late.

It doesn’t matter what the occasion is. It can be work or school, a social event or an entertainment function, but the one thing that is certain is not everyone will arrive at the same time.

Promptness (or the lack thereof) is not some chance occurrence, but an ingrained habit.

If we attend an event, and if we know the other attendees, we can very likely plot out on a chart what time each person will arrive. It makes no difference what else is going on in the world or how far they have to travel, some people will arrive early, and some will arrive late.

I am among the early group. I was born early, and, apart from an especially rebellious period during my teenage years, I have been arriving early ever since.

I am the product of a “mixed” marriage. My father was always early, and my mother wasn’t.

In all their years of marriage, they never quite agreed on the subject of timeliness.

I spent my entire childhood sitting in the car with my old man, waiting for ma to get ready to go.

He would check his watch every 30 seconds or so, and make exasperated noises each time he did so. Sitting in the back seat, I could actually feel his blood pressure rise as he was kept waiting.

Perhaps this is why I cannot stand to keep anyone else waiting today.

The image of my old man sitting in the car with smoke coming out of his ears is too clearly etched on my brain.

There are several different types of late people.

There are some who are just confused and who couldn’t keep a schedule to save their lives. They have trouble remembering appointments, and they may set out with good intentions, but get distracted along the way.

These are not the people we want in charge of planning meetings.

Some people enjoy the adrenaline rush of doing things at the last minute. They delay their departure as long as possible, and then race to their destination as if the devil were at their back.

Any minor delay will make them late, because they do not allow any time for contingencies, such as traffic lights or pedestrians in the roadway.

Others arrive late as a form of rebellion. They aren’t going to let anyone tell them what to do, and they refuse to follow the rules. They deliberately arrive late to show that they are independent.

Some people are extremely motivated. They are so focused on productivity that they try to cram an impossible number of activities into every day, and there is no way they can possibly be on time for all of them.

Think about that the next time you find yourself sitting in a waiting room reading old magazines and waiting 45 minutes for a five-minute appointment with your doctor.

Some people think their time is much more valuable than anyone else’s. Their rude behavior is extremely frustrating to those of us who end up waiting for these prima donnas.

Some people arrive late simply because they are insecure, and by arriving late, they exert some level of control over others by keeping them waiting.

Then, there are the rationalizers. They refuse to accept any responsibility for their lateness. They always blame someone or something else.

It always amazes me when people arrive late at a function and say that they are late because of the traffic.

How do they imagine everyone else got there – telekinesis? Everyone else had to negotiate traffic, too. The difference is, the sensible people took that into account when they planned their departure time.

Some people claim they do not want to arrive early because it is a waste of time (they don’t mind wasting our time, but they wouldn’t think of wasting theirs).

There are, however, many ways to keep busy when one is early. One can read, plan, return phone calls, catch up on the news, or just talk to people.

One thing that all these lateniks have in common is that they keep the rest of us waiting far too often.

It can be difficult to bridge the gap between late people and early people.

Strategy does not seem to work.

When my wily uncle used to bring his family to visit my maternal grandmother, he tried to employ strategy.

When it came time to leave, if he wanted to be on the road by 1 p.m., he would announce that they were leaving at 11 a.m. Grandma had her own sense of time, and would always think of “just one more thing” that they had to do before they left, whether it was finishing a game of Scrabble or digging up some fresh vegetables from her garden to send home with them. Despite his efforts to move things along, they often ended up driving home in the dark.

Some people have a fascinating way of dealing with being punctually-challenged.

Knowing that they always run late, they adopt bizarre strategies, such as setting all of their clocks ahead.

The funny thing is, these people are still usually late. Psychologically, the fact that their clocks are ahead gives them an artificial sense of having more time, and they end up being late anyway.

There are even people who say it is impossible to get up at a certain hour of the morning, so they set their clocks ahead to compensate.

For example, if a person needs to get up at 5:30 a.m. to get to work on time, she might set her clock ahead so that she thinks she is getting up at 6:15 a.m. Somehow, this gives her the illusion of sleeping in, even when she is not.

That brings up the subject of alarm clocks.

I will never understand people who set their alarms to go off two hours before they have any intention of getting up, and then hit the snooze alarm a couple of dozen times before they finally drag themselves out of bed.

It seems that it would be much simpler (and less insane) to set the alarm for whatever time one plans to get up, and then just get up when the alarm sounds. Apparently, logic just doesn’t come into it.

The late people have their own view of time. They will always march to their own drummer, and they will always wonder why the early people get so uptight about being on time.

The early people will always wonder why the late people are so disorganized, and why they are so thoughtless when it comes to keeping other people waiting.

When one stops to consider these differences, it is a wonder we are able to get along at all.