Cat Pritchard lines up the benefits of the single-file system and finds the queue comes up short.
Have you noticed the absence of choice in your local supermarket lately? I’m not talking about the small Banting range, which seems to have stolen a few shelves from the certified Weigh-Less snacks, slowly gaining more territory in the battle of the fad diets. I’m talking about the rise of the bollard – that boring, communal ritual you do with strangers every day – queuing. Now available in single file only.
To be accurate, bollard is the technical term given to the snaking queuing system, which has been slowly slithering into our local supermarkets, off the back of some consumer international study, no doubt. I imagine some Oprah-styled control group deciding that it was far too much pressure for the average shopper to choose their own till, robbing adults of that simple pleasure of sending a small child to wait in another queue, just in case it moved quicker. That’s bollard.
Do you even remember the last time you were able to choose our own checkout till at a big supermarket? Everyone’s going bollard. Even the premium you pay at Woolworths doesn’t afford you the luxury of choice. Part of the charm (and yes frustration) of the old “choose your own till” system, was that it didn’t seem to have one. A system that is. It was more organic than the snake, whose mechanical voice directs you to “till number 5” with all the natural warmth but none of the charm of the GPS lady. The old system wasn’t perfect. You could never predict which queue would move faster. Inevitably all would be going well when the person in front of you would have their card rejected (“Ag sorry that’s my petrol card!”) or need to weigh their single banana (“ag jammer I must have missed that one!”), and you would roll your eyes and look over at your rival in the faster queue who was already bagging his broccoli under a smug smile. So yes, it wasn’t always fair, but at least you were given choice. With the bollard, you just have the illusion of choice – a system first introduced with capitalism and perfected by local government elections.
I haven’t had to get into a single file since my school days and even then there was always a rebel or two to keep it interesting. Nowadays it’s just dull. The only thing separating you from eating all the sugar in your basket is a magazine rack and the good chance that of the 40 other people in the queue, you probably know at least one of them. But more’s the case you get stuck making small talk about Cape Town’s weather (“Still no rain. Crazy, right?”) And then, just when you thought you might actually have to start a serious environmental debate about your two-ply versus their one-ply, your turn is up and you part ways with all the relief and amnesia of a minor character in a major musical. They call it “communal” queuing; I call it a mass waste of time. (Isn’t there an app for it yet?)
The bollard is like being car number one at the Ry/Go. It makes you feel stuck, like cornering the final cambered curve off De Waal drive only to come head on into a traffic jam, often caused by that other queuing sensation – Big Concerts. (Don’t get me started on the Burger King queues.) The industrial psychologists would argue that the bollard makes for speedier processing and happier cashiers. I would argue that better wages would do the same. Online queues are not much better mind you. I once “queued” for AfrikaBurn tickets, my fingers poised on the purchase button, waiting for the noonday gun to go off so I could beat thousands of other IPL addresses to tickets. I lost out, only to have the dubious pleasure of queuing with hundreds of post-burn conversations in Checkers, months later.
For now, it looks like we are stuck with the bollard and its modern hybrids, which like to model themselves on South African politics – they pretend to be egalitarian when they actually just take the choice out of your hands and put them in the sweaty palms of another. Now that’s Bollard. Personally, I would rather queue up Kloof (bottle) Nek. At least there’s a breath-taking view and ocean at the end of that pofadder.