Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Early Birds

Kevin D. Williamson has a timely article at NRO titled On Punctuality:

I am a great admirer of the economist Tyler Cowen, and the only time I ever have wanted to wring his neck and stomp him into pink goo was when he approvingly quoted the economist Umesh Vazirani to the effect that if you have never missed a flight, then you are wasting too much time in airports. The last-second traveler is a bane of airports and trains, disrupting processes such as check-in and security screening — both of which already are annoying enough — insisting that he be rushed through because he could not be bothered to show up with sufficient time for the admittedly sclerotic process. My morning subway in New York’s financial district, which runs every three minutes during rush hours, is invariably held up by somebody holding the door for himself or a slow-going companion — who is not in such a hurry that he can be bothered to precede the train to its stop but in such a hurry that he cannot wait three minutes for the next train. Civilization means voluntarily enduring some small inconveniences to facilitate order. (Small inconveniences, Herr TSA Gropenfuhrer — small.)

There’s nothing more frustrating as an on time air traveler than to have to wait for those who are late. And not those who are delayed because they ran into some unforeseen snafu. It’s the folks who intentionally and always try to show up for their flights at the very last possible minute.

I am a puritan on the issue of punctuality: 15 minutes before the movies, 20 minutes before theater, two hours or more before a flight, 30 minutes before an intercity train, etc. If I have to leave myself some extra time on Joe Lhota’s account, so be it. (I have been known to cancel dates over a 15-minute lapse.) This is, I am willing to admit, a pretty poor strategy in some ways — e.g., I do not remember the last time I was on a flight that took off on time. But the prospect of being late fills me with anxiety, a fact that I attribute to having spent my formative years working in daily newspapers. A production manager once informed me that missing the paper’s deadline cost us several hundred dollars a minute. I once had a candidate for a reporter’s job show up for the interview a half an hour late. I did not even come down the stairs, but yelled at him from the landing, emphasizing that the newspaper is a deadline-oriented enterprise. Perhaps he’ll be a senator someday.

I never worked in a daily newspaper yet I share Williamson’s anxiety about being late when traveling. So if the choices are spending a couple of hours at the airport reading, listening to music, and catching up on e-mail before my flight or making a panicked last minute push to get through security and dash to the gate lest I miss my flight, I’m going with the former every time. Time spent relaxing because I KNOW that I’m on time is never wasted time.

Besides newspapering, I suspect that my libertarian sympathies have something to do with this. Libertarians tend to be very rule-oriented people, which is only a paradox if you do not think about it very much. If I agree to a set of rules, I will follow them to the letter. If the menu says “no substitutions,” I do not ask for an exception. If Delta asks that I be there two hours before my flight, I will be there — even though I know from long and bitter experience that Delta is going to screw me.

Williamson’s theory about libertarians being sticklers for the rules is an interesting one that I haven’t considered before. But I certainly agree with his sentiment in that if I agree to a set of rules, I too will follow them. It’s part of the social compact that helps hold society together. We are trying to have a civilization here people. Please show up on time.