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Short Stories: Why I Am Early for Everything


Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you that I am early for everything. It is not uncommon for me to arrive thirty minutes to an hour before an event begins. When I attend major league sporting events and dirt track races, I arrive a half hour or so before the gates open. The same can be said for medical appointments and dinner reservations. The surest way to irritate me is for someone to say he or she will be somewhere at a certain time, and then to show up late, leaving me oh-so-impatiently waiting. When someone makes me wait for no good reason (and doesn’t text or call), that person is being rude and wasting my time; time that could be used to do other things. I am acquainted with people who have no problem making other people wait for them to make their grand entrance minutes or even hours after the appointed time. Such people think that setting a time for an event, meal, or get-together is a suggestion, one they need not follow if more “important” stuff claims their attention. They seem clueless to the fact that their lack of punctuality robs others of their time; that ultimately it shows a lack of respect. “Bruce, you don’t understand; shit happens.” Yes, shit does indeed happen to ALL of us, but many of us still meet our obligations on time. Why is that?

One of the reasons I am punctual — “punctual” meaning arriving well before an event begins — is that I don’t like crowds and I don’t like being the focus of attention. I know that sounds odd coming from a man who spent most of his adult life being the center of attention as a pastor, but Polly will tell you that I go out of my way to avoid people/crowds, preferring to blend into the background. This is especially the case when I go somewhere I haven’t been before. I want to arrive early so I can survey the lay of the land. The same applies to going to a restaurant to eat. I prefer, if at all possible, to sit where I can clearly view my surroundings. I prefer a seat where no one can walk behind me. That’s just how I am. My children know not to invite me to crowded public events. Take concerts — I might love a particular band, but if seating at the event is general admission — count me out. Years ago, my sons took Polly and me to hear Collective Soul at Pierre’s in Fort Wayne. We had a wonderful time; that is until it was time to leave. I was surrounded by younger adults who had spent most of the evening swilling beer. They pushed, shoved, and repeatedly banged into me. The last straw was one man who dumped beer on me. With one hand, I stiffed-armed the man, sending him reeling. My sons decided it was best to quickly get Dad out of the place before he killed someone. And then there is Christmas shopping. We used to go to local retail stores and shop, but I found myself being repeatedly battered by people whose only mission in life was to save $2 on a toaster. After an hour or so of that, I was ready to commit homicide with my cane. No thanks. We now do all our shopping online.

beater station wagon
$200 beater. Polly and the boys HATED this car.

Another reason I am punctual goes back to the days when Polly and I were first married — forty-five years ago. We drove junk cars — automobiles I purchased for a few hundred dollars. We went through dozens of cars during the first two decades of marriage. My oldest two children still “fondly” remember me picking them up at the Christian school they attended in the dilapidated, noisy, handpainted green, full-sized Ford station wagon pictured above — by far, the cheapest, ugliest car in the parking lot.


Here’s another beauty I bought in 1980 for $225. It was formerly a fleet vehicle owned by the Newark Telephone Company. If you carefully look at the driver’s side fender, you will notice the fancy bodywork I did with duct tape. I drove it to work in Columbus for two years before selling it to a man in our church. I gave him instructions on how to baby the car along. He didn’t listen to me, and two weeks later he trashed the transmission. “Idiot,” I thought at the time. Ah, those were the days.

These clunkers and others rarely had good tires on them. I drove on tires years ago that had cords showing through their tread. Today, I wouldn’t leave my driveway with such tires. Of course, driving cars with bald ties meant sitting alongside the berms of countless roads with flat tires. Back then, I usually carried two spare tires in the trunk, just in case one of them didn’t stay inflated. Changing a flat took time, so I began adding time to whatever trip I was taking to account for having to change a tire (or put water in the radiator). Generally, I added thirty minutes or so to the drive time. Remember, I hated being late; and being on time was the same as being late. Allowing time for changing a tire was the best way for me to arrive on time. As the years passed, I started buying nicer cars, finding out that they did come with decent tires. Why, I even found out that there were stores that sold NEW tires. (I used to buy used tires for $5 apiece from a guy who attended our church. For a few years, I went the retreaded tires route.)

These days, I am far removed from junk cars and flat tires. But what still remains is the time with which I pad trips, just in case something happens that delays me. You never know, right?

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar

    I have a love-hate relationship with being on time/pushing the limits of time. Part of me really wants to be there early, and that side is at war with the side of me that resents being told what to do. If there’s somewhere I really want to go, on my terms, I will arrive extraordinarily early. I have fears about unforeseen circumstances that could cause me to be late, so I build in extra time. But if there’s somewhere I am told I need to be at a certain time, somewhere I don’t really want to go, I will push the limits on tardiness. It’s a constant battle.

  2. Avatar
    Scott Lohman

    I’m also chronically early. Two main things in my past are responsible for that. 1) my dad was a funeral director and I was his back up assistant. So we always had to be there early for very obvious reasons. 2) i was a DJ/on air talent for a student radio station art college. There were two things on that: you were on time or incompetent.

    Although when I was growing up, we lived 1 block from the church and we competed with two families the same distance on who would be last to get to the service. We usually arrived with less than 5 minutes to spare. The late family was always in the pew row nearest to the front.

  3. Avatar

    i, too, am early for everything. the reason for my punctuality goes back to my junior high-school days. i was a member of an orchestra, the seattle youth symphony. because of the fact that i was in junior high school, my parents (usually my mother) had to give me a ride to rehearsal every week… and she was NOTORIOUSLY late for EVERYTHING… which, of course, meant that i was late for rehearsal, almost every week. not a lot late, but 5 to 10 minutes, every week. at one point, the conductor (who was a notorious stickler for punctuality) made a rule that, if you were late for rehearsal, you had to pay $1 for every minute that you were late. this did not sit well with my parents, and they refused to pay… which meant that if i didn’t want to get in trouble (and, potentially, lose my position in the orchestra), I had to pay $5 to $10 every week… and my parents refused to pay, which meant that i was out money from my own pocket — which, because of the fact that any money in my pocket came from my parents, meant that i had to BEG from them to get the money to attend rehearsals. eventually, i convinced them that rehearsals were starting a half-hour BEFORE they actually started, and, even then, they were late about half the time.

    these days, i am anywhere up to an hour early for everything.

  4. Avatar

    I try to be at least 10 minutes early, but sometimes I end up being ridiculously early. When I was visiting Chicago a few years ago and had a red-eye flight home, I got the bright idea of taking the El from downtown to the airport around 9:30 p.m. and then hanging out at O’Hare till my flight. (The idea was to save $40 on a middle-of-the-night cab ride.)

    Little did I know that TSA didn’t open till 3:30 a.m. and I got stuck on the boring side of security, unable to get to the restaurants to grab breakfast, for nearly six hours. I still have a copy of the pen-and-ink doodles I did while camped out on a bench near the security gate.

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