Chapman: Punctuality is trending, and it’s about time | Commentary

A few days ago, while my wife and I were staying at a Lake Michigan beach community, my 34 year old son came to visit. He had a two hour commute and told me he would arrive around 11am. Given the vagaries of road construction and traffic delays, I was not counting on it. I was on the porch when he arrived. My watch said 10:59 a.m.

I should have expected that. In this family, “late” is a four-letter word. Of my three descendants, I cannot recall an occasion when, as adults, they showed up late or made me wait any appreciable time. They are much more likely to arrive early.

Several years ago, my daughter dated an otherwise nice young man who showed up half an hour late for a second date, at which point he was made to realize the seriousness of his mistake. He adjusted well enough to her expectations that they eventually got married. He was there with free time.

In his new concern for punctuality, he was ahead of a trend. A recent New York Times article carried the headline “Fashionably Late Fades Out”, noting a shift it attributes to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When video conferencing became the norm for many office workers across the country, people who previously struggled to be on time no longer found themselves held up by commutes or gossip sessions on workplace,” Katherine Rosman wrote.

Excuses are harder to come by these days. Linda Ong, head of a consultancy firm in Los Angeles, told The Times: “There has been less tolerance for delays because you are expected to have more control over your time and therefore you should to be on time.” A more annoying thing than a Zoom meeting is waiting for a Zoom meeting to start.

I like to think that the children who grew up in my household learned from my example. With a long commute and a busy family life, I was strict—well, maybe obsessive—about sticking to a schedule. I may have inherited this trait from my mother, who considers it a sin to let six hours pass without a glass of wine.

Punctuality is a modest virtue that may not get you to heaven. But it has a certain value in my profession. News journalism works with deadlines and does not wait for anyone. My submissions can be good or bad, but believe me, publishers would rather receive a lower quality article than not receive a higher quality one.

Admittedly, this compulsion is not endearing to anyone who values ​​spontaneity above all else. One could say that it makes me the eternal unpaid servant of the clock. Each of us dedicated to punctuality is haunted by fears that do not plague people who treat time as something that awaits them.

This group includes some of our presidents. Joe Biden, not one to cut short a cord line or a conversation, is invariably late, so his aides set their watches to “Biden Standard Time.” The rarest events at Bill Clinton’s White House were meetings that started on time. Donald Trump has been particularly late on important things, like recalling insurgents and concessioning the 2020 election.

Maybe they all got elected because so many Americans share their late-night ways. These carefree souls enjoy a mental freedom that some of us will never know. They can arrive 30 minutes after the appointed hour – or an hour, or even more – without regretting, or perhaps even noticing, that others have been inconvenienced.

People like me, on the other hand, are plagued by a nagging feeling that there’s no such thing as being on time. If I’m not early, I’m late.

My wife, fortunately, shares this attitude. If we have a 2pm flight, we normally commit to arriving at the airport by 1pm, which means leaving the house no later than 12.15pm. But once we start worrying about potential freeway traffic, parking issues, and security lines, we’re inclined to repeatedly advance our departure time until we leave at sunrise, wondering if we linger too long.

These days, however, chronically latecomers find themselves less likely to be accommodated. If they are to get used to living in a punctual world, I suggest they keep in mind Yogi Berra’s observation: “It gets late early here.

Steve Chapman is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13.

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