I can’t stand being late. It’s probably because, for more than 40 years, I had to be on time to work or a lot of people would know about it. To paraphrase Lorne Michaels, a radio show doesn’t go on the air because it’s ready, it goes on the air because it’s time to start. Besides, the person who preceded me was done with his/her shift and wanted to get the hell out of there (particularly when I did mornings and the overnight person had put in 5+ hours starting at midnight). In all those decades, I was tardy exactly twice. Not a bad record, but not as perfect as it should have been.
A couple of weeks ago, I got caught in horrible traffic on the way to a meeting and arrived 10 minutes late. I was beside myself as I apologized to everyone in the room, thanked them for waiting for me before starting, and admitted that it was my own fault for not leaving home earlier just in case something untoward happened on the way. At least I had the modern convenience of an iPhone so I could alert them to my delay. In the previous era, without mobile communications, that was impossible.
I’m so time conscious that, even though I no longer have a job to go to, I still have a clock in every room of the house. When we go to a movie, I won’t go into the theater if the feature has already started. I was discussing this with my friend Kevin the other day. He’s the only one who sympathizes with me on this point — too often, there’s some piece of information revealed in the first 5-10 minutes of a film, without which I won’t be able to understand some plot twist later on. But Kevin is smarter than I am. He knows how long the previews are going to run at each theater he frequents and times his arrival so that he doesn’t have to sit through the spoiler-heavy trailers. I, on the other hand, get there several minutes before the scheduled showtime, then sit there with my eyes closed and hands over my ears whenever they show coming attractions for a movie I know I’ll want to see.
Before I was married, I dated a woman who could never be ready on time. This wasn’t just a few minutes, but usually close to a half-hour. Worse, she had a dog that shed a lot, so there was no place for me to sit and wait in her apartment without getting covered in dog hair. A friend suggested I tell her to set her clocks ahead 35 minutes, but I explained that wouldn’t work because my date would consciously know the real time. What I needed was for a burglar to break into her apartment, not steal anything, but set her clocks some random number of minutes ahead without her knowledge. That seemed impractical and was quickly moot, because I stopped seeing her after the third or fourth date.
My wife understands all this. She knows that when I say we have to leave at a certain time that I have built in a 10-minute buffer just in case she’s not ultimately ready. But she doesn’t abuse that knowledge, because she knows how irritable I’ll be if the pressure’s on to get there on time. This way, we don’t have to race to our destination, usually get there 10-15 minutes before the event starts, and enjoy a nice, calm evening.
Sure, the flight doesn’t always depart on time, the play may start a few minutes late, or the band has to wait for its drugs to kick in before taking the stage but, oh, well, I did my part.