Few of the coronavirus’ many inconveniences tax Americans like the line.

Food banks in Vermont and Arizona have miles-long queues of cars. At testing sites in Florida, motorists show up with full gas tanks to keep air conditioning pumping all day. Travel to Europe is off, with America waiting behind other nations to re-enter someday. Even the electronic realm is tied up: Amid 11% unemployment, people applying for benefits report frozen computer screens and abrupt phone disconnections. Sometimes, the reward waiting at the end is simply a chance to try again tomorrow.

To a nation defined by abundance, the lines amount to an assault on a way of life. The most mundane tasks have become time-sucks suffused with anxiety over a pathogen that’s claimed more than 130,000 American lives and sickened nearly 3 million, and which is thriving in at least 40 states.

Some waits are downright humiliating. Basic human needs are confessed to total strangers, with relief dependent on their kindness.

“We have to hope that the person next to us in line will hold our place while we use the bathroom — Subway usually doesn’t mind if we use theirs,” said Kara Eaton, a 27-year-old industrial welder from Eufaula, Oklahoma, who has waited in all-day unemployment lines about 10 times since her hours were cut in mid-June.

In Clackamas, Oregon, a Portland suburb, Rachelle Basaraba on July 3 swung in behind customers standing 6 feet apart on red hibiscus images emblazoned on a sidewalk outside Trader Joe’s, whose occupancy limit was lowered to slow the virus’ spread. An employee handed out bottled water.

“Having to be patient and wait your turn — I don’t know if that’s necessarily the American way,” said Basaraba, 42, a human-relations manager. In Denmark, where her employer is headquartered, she said, a “herd mentality” and respect for rules bring order to queuing, a quality she called “a positive thing.”

Indeed, lines seem foreign to Americans. They summon images of stoic Britons standing in the rain for World War II rations or communists waiting for turnips. Yankee ingenuity engineered side attractions to distract and entertain the masses thronging Disney thrill rides. In Las Vegas, slot machines are situated wherever there might be a moment of down time. But in the coronavirus era, there are no magical payoffs.

For the first time since the Great Depression, Americans are subject to widespread limits of resources, according to J. Jeffrey Inman, a marketing professor and associate dean at the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Graduate School of Business.

“The U.S. is getting a dose of the scarcity economy, and we don’t like it,” Inman said. “The U.S. has gotten spoiled where we’ve always had a plentiful, efficient supply chain. Now we’re seeing what can happen once it gets disrupted.”

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