The Thief Of Time

I am really, really old-fashioned when it comes to being on time for anything. In the first place, I spent seven years in boarding school whose attention to time meant that second bell for morning roll-call rang at 7:02 am, and if you arrived even a few seconds after that time you were adjudged late, and got punished. (Note that it was 7:02 am, and not 7:00 or 7:05.) In the second instance, I have always worked in industries where time was measured in seconds or minutes, not hours or days, and deadlines were critical — hence the “dead” in deadline — so timeliness was not only important, but tardiness was expensive.

My motto is quite simple: “Five minutes early is on time”, and no matter where I’m coming from or how fraught the journey, I make every effort to make the 5-minute deadline. The corollary to the motto is that I get pissed when people are as little as a minute late, which makes me something of a tight-ass, and I’ve been thus called many, many times.

I don’t care.

As far as I’m concerned, by arriving late you’re telling the other person that his or her time isn’t important, or at least isn’t as important as your time, and that attitude is unbearably rude and inconsiderate. Don’t even ask me how I feel about “Mediterranean-” or “African Time”, where an appointed time is not even a “guideline” but wishful thinking. Likewise, I’ve walked away from doctors’ offices when I’m kept waiting for longer than half an hour — and when one doctor had the effrontery to bill me $70 for “breaking the appointment”, you can imagine his surprise when in return he got a bill from me for $250 (my rate for the hour-and-a-half I spent driving to his office, being ignored and driving home). The only excuse for lateness that I’ve ever accepted in a business situation is if the guy was talking to a client, or if the guy is the client.

So you can imagine my reaction to this little snippet, wherein a woman admits cheerfully that she’s always a few minutes late for social engagements, but always on time when it’s a business appointment — and is then astonished when she’s called a bunch of rude names by people who have the same standards as I have. Here’s a tip: if you know that you may be held up by traffic, or a family emergency (e.g. a full diaper belonging to a baby), then leave half an hour before you would otherwise do.

We’re always told that “time is money” by so-called efficiency experts. It isn’t. It’s worth a lot more than money. Time is the most precious resource on Earth, we each have only a finite amount of it, and when people waste my time through their careless and rude tardiness, I get so angry I have to be restrained from slipping the safety off the 1911.

And please: of course I make exceptions if someone had an actual car crash, or had to take their kid to the Emergency Room or some such situation. I’m not an unreasonable man. But outside those situations, it pisses me off that when I excoriate someone for their rudeness that somehow, I’m the bad guy for being so persnickety about time. Well, you’re fucking right I’m persnickety — and I’m going to get worse as I get older and time becomes all the more limited and precious.


  1. This is why I love working with military folk– 30 minutes early is cutting it close to being on time. Nothing quite rubs my rhubarb in that regard quite so much as back when they used to hold aircraft for people who couldn’t be bothered to get to the gate by departure time– and this was before one had to spend an hour being groped and strip-searched.

    As they say, fortune favors the prepared.

    1. Of course, these days you have those people who would have been at the gate in plenty of time, except some TSA stooge decided to execise his ego….

    2. That’s the thing about military life; showing up late for work is literally a Federal offense.

    3. 30 minutes is pushing it, for me, but 15 minutes is about right. 20 years in Uncle Sam’s Haze Grey Canoe Club makes for this to be a very hard habit to break.
      Now that I am retired, I no longer have to wake at 0500 any more. My first college class is at 0800, so I can sleep in ’til 0630. 😀

  2. Lateness has always made me nuts too. I spent WAY too many years with a girlfriend who’ll be late for her own funeral. I don’t think I ever saw the first ten minutes of a movie the whole time we were dating.

    I suspect part of it is rudeness, and part is lack of time-management skills.

    My former church had a rector before I went there who was a stickler for Mass beginning on time. Including the time when the Bishop was stuck in traffic, and he started without him.

  3. I think Irish time must be related to Mediterranean. It took me years to get used to people being an hour (or more!) late for a social engagement, and it still annoyed me even when I expected it. (Now it’s just my uncle and his wife who live about an hour from us. We’ve learned to tell them that Christmas dinner is an hour earlier than it really is.)

    And then there was the time when one of the college chapel choir members got married during the summer and had the choir out to Mayo to sing for it.

    She was 45 minutes late, though the first 30 didn’t really count because that’s how late the bishop who was performing the ceremony was.

  4. I am with you, Kim.

    I get it. Sometimes there are circumstances beyond your control that might make you late for an appointment or some such. But we have these things called telephones nowadays, so a call is in order. I always strive to arrive a bit early for all appointments. I have always considered unexplained lateness to be rude.

    I too have abandoned a doctor’s office because of inexcusable wait times. I went to a highly recommended ENT once. I had made the appointment a month in advance. When I arrived for my appointment – a half hour early – the waiting room was standing room only. I filled out the new patient forms and waited. 30 minutes *after* my appointment time, I went to the receptionist and asked “How much longer”? I kid you not. I watched as she counted the files of 14! patients before me and then said: “About 45 minutes.” Now think about that for a minute. Fourteen into 45 is less than 5 minutes. That means she either lied outright or there was going to be less than 5 minutes of quality time with the doctor. (…or both.) I asked for my file and then told the receptionist that he might be good, but he’s not that good and then I abandoned the place and never returned. (I did not get a bill for the missed appointment.)

    And don’t get me started about contractors and service providers who set up appointments – appointments that you sometimes have to take time off from work for – and then don’t show up at all – and don’t call.

  5. Sure – 5 minutes early is on time. 15 minutes early is not. It’s early, and early is not on time. If you’re more than 15 minutes early, go for a drive, walk around the block, whatever. It’s better than having the door opened by your host in his underwear because you’re paranoid about being late.

  6. Being late is just stupid. I made a business and a very good living by being responsive and on time in an industry that is full of lying thieves, who take lateness as normal.

    Luckily, my wife is cut from the same cloth. I knew early on that I could never live with a habitually late spouse. I dated a woman once that was always late, last time I ever saw her was when I left her ass at her apartment “getting ready” for a wedding we were attending. I will not walk into a church after the bride. Wonderfull old Irish priest at my church starts mass 3 min. early, always, love him.

  7. If you ever wonder why people drive like morons sometimes, it’s because they haven’t budgeted their travel time properly.

    I never did understand ‘fashionably late’. If someone says ‘be here between X and Y time’, that’s one thing. But showing up late for dinner could end with you eating a sandwich and not the pizza.

  8. My report writing class professor in grad school in the 1970’s explained to us the first day of class that no work would ever be accepted if it was late, no exceptions. He said if we were in the hospital or emergency room he would take time to come by and get our work. He went on to say that every accomplishment in the history of man was done with 24 hour days so time management and budgeting was our responsibility.

    I kind of loved that old coot because he insisted that all of our work, research notes, outlines, drafts and completed reports be done in cursive handwriting so he would know we had done our own work and had not hired a typist to help us. He said that every educated person should be able to write legible letters and memos with no excuses. For any event I want to be parked, in the venue, in my seat at least ten minutes early and nothing is worse than a live performance where the lights have been dimmed and late comers are fumbling around trying to find their seats. Assholes!

  9. Anyone who can’t be bothered to do things by a schedule is treated like they were the “slow kid” in kindergarten by me. If they complain about it, I tell them that yes, it is on purpose, and yes, I will stop treating you like a 5 year old snot eating bastard if you can bother showing up on time.

  10. I spent quite a few years in the Nav, so I am very accustom to being punctual, but I am not a slave to it. Judgement is required.

    For starters: “As far as I’m concerned, by arriving late you’re telling the other person that his or her time isn’t important” – Guess what; sometimes I want to tell the other person that they are not important!

    Other times – work. Meetings are scheduled back to back. Some run long – it is necessary to make a judgement. Do I leave this one before it is finished or should I be late for the next? Which one is more important, am I vital for one and just going to the other for information? Can someone cover for me in one or the other? All of these are factors apply.

    Social occasions – what kind is it? Is it a dinner or some other occasion where you have to be there on time for specific event or is it just mingling with a fuzzy start/stop? How formal is it? Etc… For some I will make sure I am there on time and for others I will get there when I get there.

    Finally there is just a question of feasibility. You say “leave 30 minutes sooner”. I am all for this, but if you cannot (say work does not end until XXX and the drive time from work puts you after the given time of the appointment) – well then that is what it is going to be. Certainly good manners requires being up front about this fact to those concerned and perhaps giving one’s regrets if that is more appropriate, but sometimes it just is what it is and you are better off there late than never.

  11. One of my old Aviation Professors, a former Air Force Pilot, always insisted we always be on time for his classes. “If you can’t be on time, be early.”

  12. As I watched my kids go through high school band, it was pounded into them, “To be early is on-time, to be on-time is late, and to be late is unacceptable.” If you weren’t in band, understand that band directors are masters at creative forms of punishment and embarrassment. And in band, on-time means minimum fifteen minutes early, or more if you have to hoof it out to the marching field.

    A major part of the problem is that people schedule their days and their weekends wall-to-wall. They have no down time, no “veg-time”, no free time.

    My biggest gripe about time is that my employer allows extremely flexible work hours. Any excuse allows you to work a “deviated” work schedule, 6am to 3pm, or 9am to 6pm, whatever your situation “needs”, regardless of what it does to the people you work with. That wreaks havoc with scheduling meetings, communication, teamwork, and so forth.

    Bah, I must be getting grumpy in my, let’s call it, upper middle age. I don’t lose sleep over these issues, but I do have a second bourbon on the rocks occasionally.

  13. I worked for a small law enforcement agency. I would show up 20-30 minutes early so I could grab a cup of coffee, read the log, listen to what was going on (i.e. get myself mentally prepared to hit the ground running) and usually relieve the other shift 10-15 minutes early. I was [quite unpleasant] when folk would relieve me late. In 35 years, you could count the number of times I was late on the fingers of one hand (mostly car or traffic problems).

    Those who started working before about 1980 seemed to be the ones who were prompt/early; those who started after about that date seemed to be the ones who would consistently slide in literally at the last minute, then want me to stay over to brief them.

  14. What gets amusing is when you’re senior enough to be the last person who should be entering the room…and have to force yourself not to arrive five minutes early.

  15. Good post and a home run. Yogi Berra said, “If you get there early, you’ll never be late” Words I live by.

    Last year, one of the premiere home builders in my area made an appointment with me to discuss using my work in a project. He called about 20 minutes before the meeting and said he’d was running about 1/2 hour late. He finally showed about 1 hour past the agreed upon time. OK, he called, shit happens.

    Next meeting with samples at site. I get there 5 minutes early and am told he just left to tend to a nearby client and would return shortly. Gave him 15 minutes and left. He called me later and said what’s up? I told him people with poor time management skillz always are problems. He asked if I was “firing him” and I said yep. He couldn’t believe it, went into do you know who I am and how much work I can give you and then finally told me he was trying his best not to get angry. I told he was failing and then bye-bye.

    I’ve also had the same experience in a doctor’s office and have walked out. I can understand how they could back up but waiting over an hour tells me they’re doing it wrong.

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