In grade four of elementary school, my parents put me in a special education program for special children, not because I was special, but because my brother finally started doing homework at home (instead of schoolwork at school) after going through the program, so they wanted me to suffer as well. As special children, we each had an Individual Education Plan with individual education goals that we had to revise and track our progress through every term.
From the first term in grade four to the last term in grade seven, I always had exactly the same primary goal, and for every term from the first of grade four to the last of grade seven, I made exactly zero progress on this goal. It’s haunted me how futile all my strategies have been despite
my best some efforts, throughout all of junior high, throughout all of IB, throughout first year and second year and third year and so finally, starting today, I give up on trying to stop procrastinating.
The next goal in my Individual Education Plan is to stop missing the bus.
Why today? My procrastinative tendencies have not decreased one whit since grade four, as any of the classmates I’ve worked with in any of my group projects will readily corroborate. However, my late-ride tendencies have become a major annoyance, especially since Ms. Patton isn’t there anymore to make me sing the A-B-C’s when I’m late for class.
Just in the last two weeks, I’ve missed the bus to work by one red light four times, despite knowing exactly when it comes (7:06), exactly when I leave (7:01), and exactly how long it takes me to run to the stop (6 minutes). If you plug those numbers into Wolfram Alpha, you’ll see that it doesn’t work out. On the flip side, I’ve caught the bus by one red light twice, which was every single time I left at 7:00. After I miss the bus, I usually take 15 minutes to walk back home, drenched in sweat, take 20 minutes to eat breakfast due to reading Reddit, take another 20 minutes eating spoonfuls of air due to reading Reddit, and take 15 minutes to walk back to the stop, just in time to miss the next bus by one red light. Then I wake my brother up to drive me to work.
An irritating characteristic of buses is the exactness of their schedules in light of the inexactness of reality. If all times in the schedule were rounded to the nearest multiple of five (7:05), you bet I’d show up a few minutes early since the time is obviously approximate. But because the times are exact to 7:06, I always feel that as long as I can get to the stop by 7:06:59, then I’ll make the bus. Unfortunately, I never get to the bus stop before 7:06:59, and even when I do, the bus has already left. Perhaps this is why I’ve never missed the bus home, which leaves at 19:05.
Now I can’t run for more than a kilometre, and I can’t bike, or at least I haven’t since elementary school. But a frustration common among all other forms of transportation is the anguish of knowing you’ll be late and being physically unable to do anything about it. If you’re on foot or bike, you can release your resentment against the road to propel yourself faster, so that when you finally get to class, out of breath, you can rest easy knowing that at least you gave your all, unless your class is IB English and Ms. Patton makes you sing the A-B-C’s, out of breath and tune. If you’re in a car, at least you can release some of that anger as road rage. But if you’re in a bus, there’s absolutely nothing you can do. Every red light, every jaywalker, every car turning right into the lane or waiting to turn left out of it or trying to parallel park, every student sprinting to the stop because they wanted to sleep in an extra five minutes in the morning and for whom the bus waits for no reason—the bus never waits for you!—all the pent-up frustration and fury that accumulates without pause for an entire hour of standing because you’re one person too late to get a seat, all that anger stays with you for the entire day, just because you wanted to sleep in an extra five minutes in the morning.
Let’s talk for a minute about a method of transportation with which I’ve had more success. I’ve always arrived at the airport three hours early for international flights, and so I’ve only missed one flight in my entire life. But in 2015 May on a family trip to France, I almost missed another.
We arrived three hours early at Charles de Gaulle Airport to find a massive crowd completely blocking the entrance. We moved to the next entrance, which was similarly blocked, as was the next, as was the next, until eventually we merged into the blockade ourselves. Turns out a suspicious suitcase was left unattended and the entire terminal was closed off while the French SWAT remotely detonated the contents, which were ultimately mundane. By the time they let us through, our flight had already started boarding, so my mom first convinced our fellow blockade comrades to let us skip the check-in line, then convinced the airport agents to let us skip the security check line, and finally sprinted to the departure gate just as a group of fairly Vancouver-looking folk started to leave. We ran with them out of the building and onto a waiting bus, which drove us directly to the plane, which was already on the taxi runway, and which took us the ten hours home.
In retrospect, I guess we didn’t need to arrive early after all, since we spent all those hours just idling outside the airport. I’ll admit that the only reason I added this irrelevant story is because “planes” rhymes with “trains”.
Back to the point. Whenever I missed the bus for an important event, I could crawl home and beg my dad to drive me there instead. In middle school, the only important events were weekly piano lessons, which I always dreaded because I’d never practice until the day of, then I’d practice too long and miss the bus, and then my dad would angrily lecture me during the entire ride about how I needed to improve my time management skills. All the goals in my Individual Education Plan were always about time management: procrastination, tardiness, prioritization, eating-lunch-and-dinner-for-over-an-hour-ness, I’ve made no progress on any of them in the last decade and I think my parents eventually realized that.
Now they don’t want to spend the effort to yell at me anymore, or just don’t care at all, as if they somehow found out that I’d always end up sleeping in the library instead of going to my morning classes because nobody takes attendance and my grades are inversely proportional to how much time I spend in class (see: MATH 320, MECH 260, ENPH 259). I feel like my dad sometimes misses the good ol’ days, judging by how eagerly he insists on driving me anywhere whenever I mention “exam” and “late” in the same sentence. For example, he’s recently been offering me rides to the bus stop 0.5 km away. After factoring in the time it takes him to get dressed, get down to the garage, warm up the engine, back out into the alleyway, and drive the other way to avoid the garbage truck blocking the path, I ended up missing my usual bus.
Last January, I moved out for the first time ever and spent four months alone in France. Those four months were the most distressing and depressing months of my life, so halfway through I decided to stop shutting myself in my room all weekend every weekend, and go explore the continent. Unfortunately, the common theme throughout all these stories is that I just can’t deal with time. I’d book everything last minute at ridiculous prices, then stay up for no reason, sprint to the light rail, curse my physical inability to do anything about the transit personnel who just had to spend five minutes checking tickets on that day, and finally miss the train.
This happened at least three times, and probably thirty times if you count the light rail.
I say at least because I don’t remember exactly, but the ticket receipts in my Gmail history reveal all. The first time was on April 9th, when I missed the 19:17 train from Brussels-South to Lille-Europe. It would have taken only 35 minutes with no transfers, but I got lost at the train station and got to the platform just as the train started to move. Several seconds later, a Chinese couple appeared in the same boat, and though I offered my (or tried to ask for their) help, they could only speak Cantonese and French, but I couldn’t understand it and we never saw each other ever again. We presumably ended up on the same train back, which left at 19:51, had a transfer at Ghent, and finally arrived at Lille after 119 minutes, for a hefty price of €24.60. I almost missed that train too, because I had a burger combo to pass the time without realizing that in Belgium, you have to pay for condiments, and you have to pay to use the washroom, which had a huge lineup! That’s my eating-lunch-and-dinner-for-over-an-hour-ness in action.
The second time was on April 17th, the only long weekend I had in France, from The Hague to Rotterdam. I was supposed to leave at 13:37 and arrive at 14:09 with no transfers, but the light rail was late, I was physically unable to do anything about it, and I eventually had to buy a new ticket for €5.80, which left at 13:53 and arrived at 14:11. Those two minutes I lost were very important to me, because I only had three hours to spend in Rotterdam, and I experienced more architectural elegance during that time than in my entire life, before and after. Rotterdam is a beautiful city.
The third time was supposed to be my last full day in France, April 29th. I had always started out in Lille-Europe to get to Brussels, London, etc. but I couldn’t just leave France without going to Vimy Ridge, so I got to Lille-Flanders at exactly 10:00 and hopped in a train. You might have gotten a bit worried when I said “a train”, and I was definitely worried a minute after the expected departure time when the train started to not depart at all. Turns out I was in the wrong train. This time, I didn’t care enough to buy a new ticket, so I idled for half an hour, got on the next train, and luckily, nobody bothered to check for tickets. Unluckily, someone stole my passport and laptop that night, and I ended up missing my flight home.
So those are some of my many stories about late rides. Unlike these, Individual Education Plans always focus on actions for the future, not mistakes of the past. So what should I do?
First off, I need to re-evaluate the money value of time. Two minutes spent waiting at the bus stop feels longer to me than twenty minutes spent walking to it. But logically, the two minutes I save every day by arriving at the stop with a standard deviation of one red light would take an entire month to justify the hour I lose from missing the bus, and experimentally, the period of my missing buses is half a week, not a month.
Now that I’ve finally realized this, today, in the process of writing this post, arriving on time should be an easy exercise in elementary engineering. If you need to leave two minutes earlier, just set all the clocks in your environment two minutes ahead, which was exactly what I did in high school after Ms. Patton made me sing the A-B-C’s because I missed the bus. Alas, two minutes made hardly any difference, so I set all the clocks ahead by five minutes. Eventually, I started to instinctively subtract five minutes from every time I saw, which made me late to even more classes in school, because the clocks weren’t running fast and I didn’t have a phone nor a watch to set ahead. Ultimately, I set all the clocks ahead by seven minutes, and the end result is I’m now very good at subtracting seven modulo 60.
No! This should be an easy exercise in elementary engineering. If you need to leave two minutes earlier, just pretend that the bus leaves two minutes early. My life of timeliness begins today!
Sometimes, my tardiness affects more than just myself and my wallet, and it’s these times that have given me the greatest incentive to change. A few years ago, I got on the bus a bit late for an optometrist appointment and got unexpectedly (for me) bogged down in rush-hour traffic, again physically unable to do anything but grit my teeth. I got off near home and called hoping that my dad would drive me there, but my mom finally had enough of it and threatened to disown me if the optometrist didn’t reschedule the appointment for free. Thankfully, they did, but I’ll never forget the terrible shame I felt for the entire week. But two weeks later I was back to missing the bus as usual, and my mom soon forgot about it.
Somewhat more recently, the first weekend I left my room in France was about two months in, when the new engineer, Tomáš from Czechia, invited me to visit the outdoor market. I was ten minutes late, as was usual for me, but it was absolutely not usual for him, and he delivered to me a compelling lecture on contemporary social etiquette. I don’t remember anything he said, but I do remember that same feeling of guilt I had for the whole day.
Sure, I forgot all about it too the next day, but the point is, being late is painful. It’s painful for me when I sprint after a bus to no avail, it’s painful for the ticket salespeople when they try to understand the incomprehensible Canadian who missed his train, and it’s painful for everyone who’s had to wait for my arrival, which is unfortunately the majority of fortunately a very small number of people. In fact, the only times I can remember being sad are when I’m late, when others are late, and when I have to deal with the consequences of procrastination.
I could have replaced the goals in my Individual Education Plan with just two words, “Be happy!”, and it would have meant the same thing.