You've been through this before. There is a valuable object that you must physically attain, but it's going to take a little bit of bureaucratic interaction to make it happen. An indeterminate amount of waiting may be involved. In this case, the treasured item is a West Campus parking pass for The Ohio State University, a necessity that your daughter ordered online. Armed with a day off, you are charged with the task of picking up the pass in the morning so that she may use it to attend her first college class that evening. You take the precaution of calling ahead to confirm that you are permitted to retrieve the pass on your daughter's behalf. You look over a map of West Campus and find the small visitor lot where you've parked before, the one that is a short stroll from the Traffic and Parking offices. You double-check to make sure that you have your daughter's university ID card and a printed receipt for the parking pass. Then, satisfied that you have taken all reasonable preparatory measures, you embark on your journey.
Your destination is a popular one on this first day of Winter Quarter, but several spaces open up after you circle the visitor lot once. There is a "Pay and Display" system in place that requires the purchase of a timed pass from an automated machine. You approach it and fish out the coins you brought along for this purpose, depositing three quarters and three dimes. It's 9:00. There are more coins in your pocket, but the machine says that you have just bought 42 minutes of parking time, which seems more than adequate for the purpose of picking up a previously purchased parking pass. You chastise yourself for the wasteful habit of padding parking meters with unnecessary time simply due to an irrational aversion to the unlikely prospect of purchased time elapsing. Next time, you think, you'll spend a little less instead of fattening the coffers of Traffic and Parking.
Though it feels as though you have all the time in the world to accomplish your mission, your paranoid mind tells you that there is no sense in taking any longer than you must, and so you eschew the right-angle path in favor of traversing its snow-covered hypotenuse, gaining perhaps a minute in the process. Shortly you find yourself opening the door to Traffic and Parking, and there is the long, customer service counter, nearly empty but for a pair of customers receiving service. Again, you reprimand yourself for buying a ridiculous 42 minutes of parking time. There is a large sign nearby, and it notes that you must walk past the counter in order to reach the end of the waiting line. Peering down the hall, you see just one person standing at that point, the intersection with a perpendicular hallway. You stride confidently past the counter, and as you approach the corner, you note that there are, in fact, several people waiting, but no matter, as you have plenty of time to spare. Then you round the corner and try not to betray your astonishment at the sight of thirty or more people waiting along the length of the hallway.
Taking your place at the end of this grim and eerily silent line, you realize that you were not paranoid about buying parking time, that you should have pumped all the change you had into the stupid machine, and that you have just set yourself up for a pins-and-needles wait that might last well beyond the 42 minutes you had allotted. You are familiar with the university's Traffic and Parking enforcement officers, who patrol lots like vultures circling the sky in anticipation of the magic moment that a dying desert traveler becomes carrion. You know that there is no irrationality in fearing that one of them may pounce on your Civic at minute forty-three. And then what? A ticket? Would an appeals officer see the irony in your plight, that you ran a few minutes over your purchased 42 minutes of parking time because you were waiting in line to pick up your daughter's previously purchased parking pass? Were you to intercept a ticketing officer just as he is about to slip the notice under your windshield wiper, would he listen courteously to your story and graciously tear up the ticket? Perhaps. But you have been here before, and in all your experience with Traffic and Parking officers, you have never known them to show any flexibility. Nor to smile.
So you sigh and try to accept your fate without worry, noting that the line has already moved a little, and thinking that there might just be some sliver of hope that you will return to your car either before your time runs out or before a Traffic and Parking officer notices that your time has run out. Others in the long line hold postures that suggest either nervous tension or slouched resignation. Someone apparently thought it amusing to apply a dashed yellow median along the length of the hallway floor. The line snakes along, incongruously, to the left of the line, as mandated by nearby signage. Other attempts have been made to brighten up the windowless hallway. Safety posters and an enlarged aerial photo of campus adorn one wall. A life-size "Pay and Display" machine has been awarded a prominent space. From the ceiling hang a pair of silent TV monitors, one of which is showing a succession of weather graphics, the other featuring a morning show chat with a bedraggled and effusively gesticulating William H. Macy.
The thick silence is broken by spontaneous conversation halfway up the line: a cheery young man with a broad face and recurring smile has struck up a conversation with a pleasant young woman whose blond hair flows from beneath a knitted winter hat with hanging tassels. You can hear every word they say - everyone can - and though their talk is amiable and altogether unremarkable, you cannot decided whether their public discourse is an annoyance or a welcome distraction. For just beyond them, at the far end of the hall, is the LED marquee that advises aspiring customers to have all forms ready, lists accepted forms of payment, and periodically flashes the time. 9:20. You count the people in front of you and decide against applying mathematical reasoning to the situation, as your numerical intuition tells you it doesn't look good. Instead, you hang onto the undeniably promising fact that one person who was in front of you has left, apparently unwilling or unable to wait any longer. If only several more of the sad sacks in this line follow his lead, it just might work.
But who are you kidding? There is no way that you will have concluded your transaction and returned to your vulnerable Civic in time. It is merely a question of whether or not the transgression will be noticed by the Gestapo. And you know it will, you just know it. And you further know that they will not give two buckeyes about some fat, old alumnus who was too cheap to plunk all of his change into a parking meter. They will be merciless, just like the time you failed to remove your father's Oldsmobile from the stadium parking lot before midnight, the deadline by which they started to tow vehicles in anticipation of the sacred marching band's dawn practice. Not that you're still bitter about it. But you hold no illusions about their charity. It's now 9:25, and those buzzards have probably already made note of your 9:42 expiration. Time to face the music. You were stupid! Stupid!
And then...a miracle. An angel appears. Admittedly, there is nothing angelic about her rather ordinary appearance, but she whisks down the line and calls out like a carillon's worth of church bells, "Did anyone already pay for their pass on the Internet?" You are nearly too stunned to speak, and the angel almost turns away, but you recover your senses in time to thrust your arm upward and croak, "I d-did!"
You reach your car at 9:33, alive with adrenaline and a deep gratitude for the unexpected windfalls of intervening fortune. Others, you know, will not be so lucky. Like the absentee owner of one of those cars across the lot, that line of vehicles under surveillance by an expressionless officer sitting inside an idling Traffic and Parking cruiser. He was coming for you next, you think. But not today. Not today.