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Uggggh, waiting in line: there are so very, very many other things I’d rather do. While I aim for a laid back and optimistic attitude as a general state of mind, patience, regrettably, is not often one of my virtues. The more patience a waiting line requires from me, the closer I inch towards my own personal hell as my laid back and optimistic attitude slips away. The worst waits challenge me to my very core, depending on how long the line is, what I hope to achieve at the end of it, the mood I’m in when I encounter it, and whether I’m already late to begin with.

Here are my rankings of all-time worst lines to wait in, in descending order from “This Stinks” to “Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter.”

1. The Grocery Store Checkout Line Just Before a Holiday or Big Game.

This line can be mind-numbing. It can be particularly bad if you have a tantruming child nearby. Earbuds, of course, can help run a good defense. And the tabloids, ironically, can be a life-saver. But if I find myself actually caring about what Jennifer Aniston is up to, or believing I can actually Lose Weight Fast with the Soup Diet!, I know I’ve descended a little farther into Waiting Line Hell than I wanted to go.

2. In the Exam Room and the Doctor is Late.

How long can you stare at the boxes of sterile gloves on the wall and wonder what size would fit you? How many times can you read the poster with instructions for accessing the portal? Can you understand the poster in Spanish? How many games of Candy Crush can you play before you’re clinically brain dead? Bonus points if you’re naked (sitting in a paper gown at the OB-Gyn or Proctologist), cold, and physically as well as mentally uncomfortable.

3. The Department of Motor Vehicles.

I approach these visits expecting to need a ninja level of patience, and I’m usually right. How long does it take to enter data and issue someone a new license or registration? DMV employees must be paid by the hour: the more time they take to do something, the more money they must earn. It sucks for the rest of us, having to wait endlessly to pay a tax on something we need and can’t realistically live without. Waiting patiently to have my money taken from me irks me to no end. Meditation skills come in very handy here. At least it’s quiet. Usually.

4. The Bathroom, When You’ve Really Gotta Go.

Women are no strangers to this one. The existential question of Why Are There Never Enough Women’s Bathrooms? remains unanswered to this day. I also feel for my transgender friends, who struggle with the added dimension of which bathroom to use. Unfortunately, a long line might sometimes forcibly make that choice for them. The general rule is: the worse you gotta go, the longer the line is. Like the Doctor’s Office, this wait adds the extra challenge of physical discomfort.

5. Traffic Gridlock.

Bad traffic always gets me because I almost always run late to begin with. I keep telling myself I will leave earlier for every appointment, but then I have too much faith in my multi-tasking skills and think I can always get one more thing done before I have to leave. Nope! Every time I’m proven wrong, I remember I was supposed to correct myself last time. Nothing tests my patience more than being late, getting stuck in traffic, lining up for a highway exit only to be cut off by a jerk who forces his car in at the last second. Note to self: it’s hard to meditate while driving. Just leave earlier.

6. On Hold to Make a Return, Sign Up for Internet Service, Change a Flight, etc.

Another example of the lunacy of wasted money as well as time. As a rule, I hate to spend money on something that’s more expensive than I think it should be. So I find these situations ideologically frustrating in addition to taxing my patience. Customer Service is a hard job and not one I’d want, but I wish they’d pay reps more and hire more of them so that it’s a more pleasant experience for all of us. My time is worth something, too, and the more frustrated you make me by forcing me to wait to pay for something that’s overpriced, the less likely I am to buy your product. Bonus points if you deliberately confuse me with the terms of your contract.

But you want to know what’s the all-time worst?

ALL-TIME WORST: Airport Security and Aviation Travel.

Airport security has become so routine now that it barely ruffles some people. However, I’m old enough to remember actually enjoying travel before 9/11, when terrorists changed the nature of travel forever. There was no endless navigating through crowd control corrals to get to a point where you have to remove half your clothing and halfway unpack your suitcase, then be rewarded with a pat down for your trouble. I try not to feel like a criminal or a sex worker when I’m at the airport; I know it’s nothing personal and it keeps all of us safe. However I still have a lot of grief for the way things used to be, and it frustrates me to no end that travel is now so stressful now that it’s hard for people to even be nice anymore. Don’t even get me started on the lineup for the gate (did you know that airline workers call people who crowd the gate “gate lice?”); the rush to get an overhead bin; the shrinking space on board airplanes; or—the worst—people who recline their seats. Airline travel these days is one endless, draining endurance event that completely saps your life force so that whenever you finally arrive at where you’re going, you’re exhausted.

Speaking of which, congratulations! You know you’ve arrived in Hell when you realize you no longer want whatever it was you were waiting in line for. What was it I was supposed to be doing again?

Heather Shaff

Heather Shaff is a cyclist, writer, and mom based in Boston. She's fascinated by all things growth, motivation, and learning... and will drop everything for chocolate ice cream.

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