Photo by Erik Jacobson on Unsplash
There is a natural inefficiency to the vaccination program in America that is likely intentional even if accidental.
I used to do a bit of consulting work for the Disney Corporation, an organization that practically invented waiting in line, or as the British like to call it, the queue. In the old days, the good people at Disney learned that if people could see how long a line was, they wouldn’t stand for it, or in it. But if you snaked the line through various areas, meant to allow you the feeling of progress, maybe gave you different things to look at, eventually, you’d be too far in to turn back, and you’d wait in lines longer than you would otherwise. You could, in effect, pack a lot more people into the park than the rides could possibly accommodate.
They continue to experiment with different ways to allow many people to stagger the crowd and allow them to enjoy the experience, through the use of ubiquitous smartphones and a virtual queue. Because of technology, you can sign up and be given a pretty good idea of when you will be admitted to the ride or show. You can see where you stand in the queue and how long it will be. In the meantime, you can go do other things.
Currently, we are in a situation where most of the country is waiting, some not all that patiently, for a vaccine. Set aside for a moment, the fact that any effort on the Federal level to coordinate a response to the pandemic was nonexistent until very recently. The reality was always going to be that we were going to end up with demand that far outpaced any supply for at least an extended period of time. We were always going to be waiting in line, but we could have had a system that told us where we stood and what our expectations should be.
I also used to do a lot of work with airports, specifically on the retail side of things. The corporations that third-party manage airport retail had a lot of rejiggering to do after 9/11 when security meant you could no longer go through security to meet an incoming passenger. All post-security retail became off-limits to everyone but those who were leaving. Many airports were left with barebones waiting areas for those not flying that day.
Even if you were building an airport from the ground up, you couldn’t necessarily put all the retail pre-security either, because people get understandably nervous about getting to their gate on time. Most commercial airports try to do a little of both, but the bulk of concessions are found post-security.
Even so, in our research we found that most travelers prefer to go directly to their gate, so they know where it is and then, if they have the time, will venture out to restaurants and retail options, but the farther they get from their gate, the higher their stress level.
If they can’t see their gate, they are not comfortable, so you’re limited in how far most people will travel. This is largely because you can’t trust the information you’re getting from anything electronically. Your phone could say the flight is delayed and the gate agent could be boarding the flight. If you’re not physically present, there’s really no way of knowing for sure. It’s not a very trustworthy process, which is one of the reasons why air travel is so stressful.
There are a lot of people who would like to get married at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Don’t ask me why, but they do. They sold that Disney Princess fairy tale to generations of little girls and they want their day on the red carpet with their glass slippers. When I say a lot of people, it’s far more than could possibly get married there, by a factor of 100. They do dozens of weddings on any given day, every day, and it still does little to stem the tide.
One of the things that Disney used to do to combat this was to allow the process to remain cumbersome and what appeared to be purposely difficult, simply in order to weed out those who weren’t passionately interested. They didn’t actually make it hard on purpose, they just didn’t make it easy. For instance, if you wanted to get married at Disney and you called their hotline, you might have to call multiple times before you ever got through. If you weren’t willing to try really hard, they figured there were others who wanted it worse than you did. They let people self-select and opt-out on their own. Those who were persistent and worked the system got through. Those who gave up easily were allowed to do so. Disney couldn’t possibly accommodate everyone anyway, there was no reason to tell people no if they didn’t have to.
This is what it would appear that most states are doing with regards to vaccinating the millions of Americans against the COVID-19 virus. Everyone is complaining about how difficult it is to navigate the system, but really, if everyone was able to simply sign up and given an appointment, at least some people would discover that they were slated for their first shot sometime around Independence Day, somewhere between 6am and 11pm.
If you’ve ever been to a banquet, wedding, or catered lunch on a film set, you’ve been in the situation where the food is put out and everyone gets in line to be served. I’m that guy who waits until everyone has gone through and then walks through without having to wait. I hate waiting in line. I’d rather do something else, like sit. As long as I’m not worried that they will run out of something, I’m happy to wait.
We fight to get on planes first, even if we’re sitting in First Class because the overhead space is limited. Having frequent flier status means you get priority boarding, which if it weren’t for the limited luggage space, would have zero benefit or attraction. In fact, if you were looking for pure comfort, First Class passengers would board last. They don’t treat you all that well anymore anyway. Maybe you get a drink, maybe you don’t. You were probably just drinking at the bar anyway, so what difference does it make? But they have us lining up like they’re giving away free cars, and we do it.
There is an efficiency to the current inefficiency, a method to the madness of the current process that takes into account our impatience, our natural inclination to self-select, the willingness of the most desperate to find an alternative path, and our desire for fairness in all things.
“Good things come to those who wait” is a slogan used by Guinness, and while it may be apropos for dark British beer, it’s not all that effective a strategy against a coronavirus outbreak. As long as demand outpaces supply, people will have to wait, and someone will be last. Someone is always last, no matter what.
Chuck Palahniuk once said, “After you find out all the things that can go wrong, your life becomes less about living and more about waiting.”
So we wait.
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