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Thursday, February 14, 2008

armchair sociology

I had occasion to see some interesting social patterns in action a couple of weeks ago. (And if I were close to diligent about blogging, I'd have mentioned it then.)

Joshua Bell, world-famous classical violinist, hails from Bloomington, IN, and was gracious enough to give a free concert here last weekend, with a pianist friend of his, Jeremy Denk. Tickets were available as of 11 a.m. on a weekday morning. The line started forming around 8:40 a.m. (I know because an acquaintance of mine was first in line). I arrived around 10:40 a.m. and found a line of people waiting in the cold -- a line that looked surprisingly short, until I saw that most of it was inside the building. The line snaked back and forth through the lobby. The loops were crowded so close together that it was sometimes difficult to keep track of which was which, especially since people kept stepping across to chat with each other. And yet no one, so far as I could see, made any attempt to jump the queue. Nor was there any impatience evident, although those of us in my part of the line ended up waiting for two hours. The line etiquette/ethos may have been bolstered by the presence of auditorium staff, giving occasional updates and reassurances, discreetly keeping an eye on things. And of course, it was reasonably clear what we were supposed to do and where we were supposed to go.

On to the nearby parking garage -- and a very different scene. Cars converged from several directions on the narrow exit. The line of cars with the clearest shot did not, most of the time, take turns with those coming from the side. It took ingenuity and/or recklessness to get one's car out of a spot in the first place, and then to get the heck out. (I had to create a new lane of traffic -- yes, there was room -- in order to get out of my spot, and then play chicken with a driver in the favorably positioned lane.)

And of course, these were pretty much all the same people who'd been following the rules so nicely in the line at the auditorium.

One main difference was that there were rules apparent in the auditorium. Another was the presence of those who might enforce those rules. And finally, as my husband pointed out: people are different in cars.

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