Can we change that old saying to "Better never than late?" Lateness bugs me enormously because I jump through every hoop to be on time and it baffles me when other people don’t. My mother indoctrinated me early. She believed if you weren’t at least half an hour early, you were late. We arrived together at appointments and concerts, etc., literally hours early, giving me nothing to do but plan how to secretly adjust my mother's clocks and watches without her ever finding out.
Any way you time it, people who always show up at 8:40 for an 8:00 rendezvous are thorns in the sides of us who amazingly not only learned to tell time, but also to heed it. I never care how splendorous a straggler’s apologetic bouquet of flowers might be, or how vintage his Bordeaux. I’m just angry he took the time to stop and buy it. (Although I do appreciate the buzz an entire bottle imparts while I browbeat the transgressing latecomer into accepting permanent designated driver status.)
I understand that glitches arise, and acknowledge that chronic lateness can indicate A.D.D. and depression. But I always end up miffed when stiffed, because I cannot shake this belief: If my chronically late friends won a million bucks, and all they had to do to collect was to be at my house at 10 pm, they’d be on time. Which means they’re capable of promptness – just not when it's only me and my prizelessness at the other end.
I especially love the number one excuse I hear for lateness: “I was about to walk out the door when so-and-so called.” Believe it or not, there's this thing called "voicemail" which let's the caller leave you a message. According to a study I made up, the chances that the caller has an emergency are 1 in 26,000.
Technology works for and against punctuality. Electronic calendars are great for beeping out reminders that you have to be somewhere, giving you a greater chance you'll show up on my doorstep before I’ve given up and changed into flannel pajamas and a 70-pound lapdog. But with cell phones, some people think it doesn’t matter if they run late because it’s so easy to call and give the other person an updated ETA. These are the same people so addicted to their Blackberries and such that they're always late because they can't leave the house before checking 20 times that they haven't forgotten their cell phone.
Unfortunately I'm hardly ever brave enough to express my discontent, even if while waiting I was able to re-grout all my tile and grow my hair two inches. All I usually do is smile and clench my teeth around the hackneyed words, “That’s ok.” Occasionally, it really is ok. When we're not headed for a scheduled event or dining on a perfectly risen soufflé, sometimes timing doesn’t need to be so timely. Before my companion arrives, I know I should scrutinize my persistently stringent expectations instead of my watch. There, I said it – some of the problem resides with me. I really wish I weren’t such a stickler. I really wish the ticking clock didn't raise my blood pressure. I really wish I could take people’s lateness with a grain of salt. But not as much as I wish I could follow the lead of daycare centers that fine parents $3 for every minute they're late to pick up their kids. A lot of my friends would be coughing it up to me regularly – but only because it ain't a million dollars.