Southern Time

I am terminally, helplessly and hopelessly prompt.

No matter how hard I try to be late for meetings, appointments or scheduled events I just can’t do it, my DNA won’t allow me to be tardy.

If you live in the South,  you’ve probably never met anyone like me.

Like many Charlotte, NC residents I’m a “not-from-here” and yes, I grew up north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Granted, there the obsession with all things dominated by the clock is a bit more compulsive than it is in the South.

But for me, established and agreed upon meeting times, social, business, or otherwise are not to be treated as mere suggestions. These are binding oral contracts needing respect and above all, adherence.

Initially I thought the predisposition for tardiness was generational. That theory soon proved false. My calendar over the past two weeks had seven scheduled, agreed upon (in two cases reconfirmed) meetings. Four were business related and three were social. My meetings involved a cross section of Millennials, Gen X & Y’ers, over 50 types, professionals and even retirees.

In each case I was the first one at the agreed upon meeting place and the only one there within five minutes of the agreed upon time. One meeting involving four others didn’t have the required quorum until 30 minutes had gone by. One lunch date was 40 minutes late without as much as an “I’m sorry.” They even seemed perturbed that I was nearly done with my solo lunch. I was wolfing it down in order to not be late for my next appointment.

Look, I’m a busy guy. My calendar is so jam-packed with notes, diagrams, contacts, and, places I need to be, it looks like Cam Newton’s playbook. I’m no busier than the next guy. I simply have an ethic of respecting others’ time. Before you start railing on me for being intolerant and noting the city’s traffic woes, kids that need attention and dogs that eat appointment books, know that I’m not talking about the very occasional circumstances beyond our control that beset all bipedal beings. I instead refer to the institutional variety of belatedness that has become ingrained – and seemingly accepted – in our citizenry.

I toil alone on the battlefield of the timely, a solitary soldier with a synchronized alarm clock.

Technology all but eliminates the most common excuses for those few who are ashamed enough to even feel badly about their condition. Smart phones allow scheduling with advance notification, provide GPS directions to far flung locales and even suggest traffic routes that are the most expeditious.

But instead of making people timelier, these devices actually enable chronic slugs to become even more waylaid. With the constant checking of email, voice-mail, their stock portfolio and yes, their next appointment, they are meticulously organized, albeit chronically late.

It comes down to this: Wherever the late crowd isn’t at any given moment is where they would much rather be. They’re not late for your appointment; they’re simply early in their mind being somewhere else.

Michael J. Solender

Michael J. Solender

Michael J. Solender is a recent corporate refugee whose opinion and satire has been featured in The Richmond Times Dispatch, The Winston-Salem Journal, and Richmond Style Weekly. He writes a weekly Neighborhoods column for The Charlotte Observer and is the City Life Editor for Charlotte ViewPoint. His micro-fiction has been featured online at Bull Men’s Fiction, Calliope Nerve, Danse Macabre, Dogzplot, Gloom Cupboard, Full of Crow, Pangur Ban Party and others.

You can find more of his work at his website and also at his blog.

  1. Dear Michael — I, too, am damnably ON TIME. There are times beyond my control — traffic, weather, etc., when I am so apologetic that you’d think I was the cause of the delay. I begin to wonder if someone is more than 5 minutes late: Do I have the right time? the right date? am I in the right place for the meeting? has there been an horrific accident? and, most importantly, what have I done to make this person late? are they peeved at me? have I offended in some way? Usually, it’s a simple case of traffic and/or weather conditions. Occasionally, the time or date is incorrect or forgotten. Maybe I should have sent that reminder, but I didn’t want to be so controlling, etc., etc., etc. Most people are “glad” to be reminded. Still, there are always going to be those who are perpetually late. The only thing to do is invite them 15-45 minutes ahead of time or just go on without them. With luck, they’ll get the message.

  2. The spouse and I are extremely lucky to be both on-time people. It obviates a lot of reasons for conflict. However, I have now decided that, just as some people have no sense of direction or place or rhythm, some (many) people have no sense of time. And, when you come to think of it, it doesn’t matter, as long as a few people are keeping track and insuring that everyone can be collected at one time and in one place to get important work done.  Islam does it by calling everyone to stop and pray six times a day.  The monasteries of Europe did it by ringing bells every three hours throughout the day.  Indeed, every great civilization seems to have relied on somebody developing a calendar and keeping track of time. This was particularly important as long as daylight pretty much determined when work could be done.  Now that we can work by artificial light, around the clock, timing is less important and people can work whenever they want.
    The only drawback I see is that many people don’t seem to realize that to function well the brain needs a regular, large amount of sleep. So, even though we can work around the clock, our over-all productivity suffers from people going around in a perpetual fog.

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