Sometimes, you find yourself at a crossroads: You must dig deep into your hardwired soul and decide — is it time for fight or flight?
Do you dig your heels in and wage a to-the-death battle, or do you slink away and hope to disappear into permanent anonymity?
Fortunately, I was a mere witness to such an event and am not currently reveling in battle scars nor seeking personal obscurity.
The event happened at the post office the other day. I went there around 4 p.m. to mail a couple of packages. Anyone who has lived in this country for more than about 10 minutes most likely knows that 4 p.m. at the post office means you will be greeted with a line normally reserved for roller coasters at an amusement park in the summer.
That’s fine by me, as I bring along my handy-dandy line-waiting machine and simply kill time with said machine up until I get to the very firmly worded sign that suggests using your cell phone while at the counter will result in having your mail privileges revoked permanently.
There were two clerks working. I had moved up to third in line. At this point, a gentleman from the back emerged. “Anyone here just picking up or dropping off?” he announced loudly to the waiting line of customers.
An older woman at the very back of the line stepped forward, bypassing all of us. She held a small slip of paper in her hand, high above her head.
Let’s say you hadn’t ever been to a post office. Even if that is the case, some trigger should go off to tell you that his offer was not to the routine customers in line looking to mail packages, buy stamps, and the like. Even if you were not Columbo, you might have deduced that the gentleman’s offer was for a non-standard clerk transaction. I quickly came to the conclusion that the woman had a slip of paper left in her P.O. box telling her that she had a package too large to fit in said box. Pretty sure all but one other customer had the same deduction, as most of us continued staring at our phones.
That one customer, however, did not make the connection in a big way.
“Uh, yeah, it’s not like I’m not just here in line, too!” she announced loudly, apparently to both no one and everyone at the same time.
No one responded to her, I assume as many thought she might have a medical condition and was unable to control her outburst.
She then held a small package above her head. “Hello? I’m just trying to mail this first class.” Other customers began to notice her. The post office staff did not. This did not please her.
At that point, she began her march from the middle of the line, past me, to the front of the line, where the lady was trying to trade her slip of paper for the package that didn’t fit in her P.O. box.
“HELLO???” she said with a few extra syllables. She thrust the envelope toward the gentleman behind the counter. “I’m trying to mail this first class. DROPPING OFF! She cut in line!”
Few thoughts here: (a) I am not sure what she thought the rest of us were doing in line. (b) Pretty sure the last time I audibly accused someone of cutting in line while using her tone and inflection was when I was in elementary school.
The gentleman behind the counter politely said, “Ma’am, I am handling non-monetary transactions only.” The irate woman’s red face turned a slightly different shade of red, and she pursed her lips, trying to find her next move. She glanced back at the line she had abandoned. We all stood with our pending monetary transactions, waiting in line like good little boys and girls.
She was on an island. An island of poor decision making and regrettable outbursts. She looked back at the clerks, then back at the line. Moment of truth. What to do? Keep fighting and get that first class package mailed NOW? Or admit defeat and get outta Dodge as fast as she could?
She dug deep into her evolutionary background and decided the fight instinct was no longer a viable option. Flight it was. She tucked her package under her arm, lowered her head and beelined out the door, presumably to a different postal location.
I hope she eventually got her package mailed off, and I hope that she took with her the important life lesson to stop, observe and process before reacting. Or, just do like everyone else. And keep your face buried in your phone until your turn comes up.
Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C., and now lives in Charleston. A graduate of the University of Alabama, you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike.