California Forum

How much longer will the ‘other California’ have to wait its turn?

Farm workers pull weeds in a Central Valley onion field near Stratford, Calif., March 15, 2014. As California has rebounded from the recession, the inland parts of the state have lagged the coast. (Matt Black/The New York Times)
Farm workers pull weeds in a Central Valley onion field near Stratford, Calif., March 15, 2014. As California has rebounded from the recession, the inland parts of the state have lagged the coast. (Matt Black/The New York Times) NYT

Here’s my basic observation about waiting in line: The other line always goes faster.

I hate waiting. I’m impatient. I get anxious. I may not show my frustration on the outside but inside I’m often fuming.

Too often the valley has been sent to the back of the line, or labeled “the other California.” We are tired of waiting in line.

You’d think that because I farm, I would be more patient and relaxed. Accept nature. Let go of things I can’t control, like the weather. And I am for the most part. If I think something is worth the wait, if the object or experience is valued highly, then I accept the delay and pay the added price of my time. It’s like the lines at Disneyland.

And businesses and organizations try to manage expectations. Restaurants routinely overestimate the time before a table is ready, hoping you stick around and then feel good when your wait time is less than anticipated. Occupied time feels shorter than unoccupied time so businesses will fill the interval with distractions. TVs in waiting rooms are an example. Or mirrors near and in elevators that let us fill the time waiting with our vanity.

And in traffic, roundabouts, circular intersections where drivers travel in a circle around a center island, can offer an alternative to waiting at stop signs, drivers yield at entry to traffic then smoothly join the flow of traffic. Once you adapt, studies have found roundabouts can increase traffic capacity by 30-50 percent and avoid head-on or T-bone collisions. Plus there’s a sensation of movement, which I love.

Waiting, being patient, accepting delays. We in the valley have often heard these excuses as the larger cities and coastal regions of the state were often higher priority for public funds, foundation support and educational initiatives. Too often the valley has been sent to the back of the line, or labeled “the other California.”

We are tired of waiting in line. In many ways, we have begun to flex our muscles and are carving our own identity. The last presidential election exposed it. Rural and working class America are tired of standing by.

There’s a new expectation level that may drive policy and politics. Many have felt others have cut ahead and gone to the front of the line. A new cry about fairness and efficiency is in the air. Simple distractions like elevator mirrors will no longer satiate nor subdue.

I hope a collective energy can rise from these dramatic changes. All entities, businesses, institutions, and communities in our valley are witnessing fundamental shifts. A potentially positive attitude can emerge: Now it’s our turn to build our own roundabouts and advance forwards smoothly, yielding when necessary yet efficiently progressing.

Lessons from waiting in lines apply. Solo waits feel longer than group waiting. Uncertain waits feel longer than known waits. A new group mentality is growing, a regional sense of place and identity that are raising questions. New alliances are being created and old divisions and labels no longer apply.

We have the potential to work together bound by collective purpose. A simple example is immigration reform, in which the valley can lead the nation in seeking a workable and just solution.

It’s time to treat the diversity of our communities as an asset and part of our wealth. We have witnessed numerous slips and skips while waiting in line, falling behind and witnessing others advance forward. The anxiety and stress can contribute to reactionary behavior, as some try to turn back the clock.

But a sense of fairness is still valued here. While waiting, we have built working relationships throughout the valley. The time is now to rush to the front as we build something uniquely our own, impatient to become the line that goes faster, to become that “other line.”

David Mas Masumoto is an organic farmer near Fresno and author of several books including “Epitaph for a Peach.” He can be contacted at masmasumoto@gmail.com.

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