We went to one of those big amusement parks. I hate the act of standing in line at theme parks, but I do find the lines intriguing. While a team of engineers designed the rides, a team of social psychologists designed the lines. I'm not sure they are good social psychologists. If they were good psychologists their career paths might not include designing lines.

In the old days, a line was a line and you stood in it and were bored and it was long and miserable and the only interesting thing along the way was the tree were the last seven million people had stuck their gum.

The first thing that happens in these new lines is that you see a sign proclaiming how long the wait is. Whatever it says, it's lying. Either the wait is not that long, or that is the time it takes to get to the first false start.

You go through the turnstiles and are immediately confronted with three choices:

  1. Express Pass
  2. Lone Rider
  3. Idiot

The Express Pass Line

For 1%ers who didn't have to take a second mortgage to pay the park entrance fees.

The Lone Rider Line

For people who couldn't afford to bring their whole families to the park. "Daddy is going to Buckdog World. I can't afford to send you to Buckdog World and to college, and I'm not going to go to college for you, so I will go to the park and you can enjoy the rides vicariously."

The Idiot Line

Long rollercoaster line
Smoke and mirrors, literally and figuratively.

For the rest of us. You pass through a long corridor so it seems as if you are making progress. Then you hit the crowd and have to stand still for several minutes. Eventually you advance to a place where the line goes from one long straightaway to a series of cutbacks. You move through these cutbacks quickly and this gives you the sense you are covering a lot of ground. You are not. But you get to change directions a bunch. You see the same people over and over which gives you ample opportunity to judge those people. You think things such as, "That person won't fit in the ride. That person barely fits in the line."

Next comes the aforementioned "false start." Here you get to a room that shows you a video of what the ride may be like, and generally ends with a mission such as, "You are the only people left who can help Spiderman, Harry Potter and Scooby-Doo save the world. Prepare for the mission!"

"Prepare for the mission," is code for, "You still have a long time to wait, sucker."

The video invites you to enter the transporter or the space ship. Giant elevator type doors open. You and 600 other wretched people crowd in. The doors close. Lights flash, the floor rises and lowers to give you the sensation of movement. Smoke blows in. Just when you are sure you have arrived at the ride, other doors open and you are ushered into a new area, ten feet from where you just were, and you are required to line back up.

You are issued 3-D glasses. This is simply another distraction to make you believe you are almost there. You are not almost there, but the 3-D glasses make the end look nearer.

The designers of these lines want you to be goal-oriented, but they don't want that goal to be getting to the ride. They want you to develop short-term, achievable goals. They put you in a hallway with baseboard heaters and a temperature of 108?, but they also mount a fan on the wall 200 yards ahead so that you start thinking, "Man, if I could just get to that fan I could feel some cold air." Then, when you get to the fan, it's -38? and they jam the line there until you are shivering so much you just want to be hot again, at which point they drop you into a greenhouse. From there you enter the room where the water is up to your chin, followed by the Plush Towel, Desert Sandstorm, Summer Shower, Arctic Trek, and Mosquito & Blackfly sections of the line.

By the time you get to the ride, the movie or book it is based on is no longer trendy, you've read and watched the sequel on your phone, and the producer has sold the rights to an entirely different amusement park so the ride you set out to enjoy has been shuttered and you are awarded a free pass to the Express line, valid at any ride in the park except the popular ones.