Inside the heads of people who are always late, as explained by stick figures.

This post was originally published on Wait But Why.

I woke up this morning to a text. It was a link:

"optimistic-people-have-one-thing-common-always-late."


Intriguing. Nothing’s better than the headline: "The reason people are [bad quality that describes you] is actually because they’re [good quality]."

I got to reading. And as it turns out, according to the article, late people are actually the best people ever. They’re optimistic and hopeful:

"People who are continuously late are actually just more optimistic. They believe they can fit more tasks into a limited amount of time more than other people and thrive when they’re multitasking. Simply put, they’re fundamentally hopeful."

They’re big-thinking:

"People who are habitually late don’t sweat over the small stuff, they concentrate on the big picture and see the future as full of infinite possibilities."

Late people just get it:

"People with a tendency for tardiness like to stop and smell the roses…life was never meant to be planned down to the last detail. Remaining excessively attached to timetables signifies an inability to enjoy the moment."

By the end of the article, I had never felt prouder to be a chronically late person.

But also, what the hell is going on? Late people are the worst. It’s the quality I like least in myself. And I’m not late because I like to smell the roses or because I can see the big picture or because the future is full of infinite possibilities. I’m late because I’m insane.

So I thought about this for a minute, and I think I figured out what’s going on. The issue is that there are two kinds of lateness:

1. OK lateness. This is when the late person being late does not negatively impact anyone else — like being late to a group hangout or a party. Things can start on time and proceed as normal with or without the late person being there yet.

2. Not-OK lateness. This is when the late person being late does negatively impact others — like being late to a two-person dinner or meeting or anything else that simply can’t start until the late party arrives.

John Haltiwanger’s Elite Daily article is (I hope) talking mostly about OK lateness. In which case, sure, maybe those people are the best, who knows.

But if you read the comment section under Haltiwanger’s article, people are furious with him for portraying lateness in a positive light. And that’s because they’re thinking about the far less excusable not-OK lateness.

All of this has kind of left me with no choice but to take a quick nine-hour break from working on a gargantuan SpaceX post to discuss not-OK late people.

When it comes to people who are chronically not-OK late, I think there are two subgroups:

Group 1: Those who don’t feel bad or wrong about it. These people are assholes.

Group 2: Those who feel terrible and self-loathing about it. These people have problems.

Group 1 is simple. They think they’re a little more special than everyone else, like the zero-remorse narcissist at the top of Haltiwanger's article. They’re unappealing. Not much else to discuss here.

Punctual people think all not-OK late people are in Group 1 (as the comments on this post will show) — because they’re assuming all late people are sane people.

When a sane person thinks a certain kind of behavior is fine, they do it. When they think it’s wrong, they don’t do it. So to a punctual person — one who shows up on time because they believe showing up late is the wrong thing to do — someone who’s chronically late must be an asshole who thinks being late is OK.

But that’s misunderstanding the entire second group, who, despite being consistently late, usually detest the concept of making other people wait. Let call them CLIPs (Chronically Late Insane Persons).

While both groups of not-OK late people end up regularly frustrating others, a reliable way to identify a Group 2 CLIP is a bizarre compulsion to defeat themselves — some deep inner drive to inexplicably miss the beginning of movies, endure psychotic stress running to catch the train, crush their own reputation at work, etc., etc. As much as they may hurt others, they usually hurt themselves even more.

I come from a long line of CLIPs.

I spent around 15% of my youth standing on some sidewalk alone, angrily kicking rocks, because yet again, all the other kids had gotten picked up and I was still waiting for my mom. When she finally arrived, instead of being able to have a pleasant conversation with her, I’d get into the car seething. She always felt terrible. She has problems.

My sister once missed an early morning flight, so they rescheduled her for the following morning. She managed to miss that one too, so they put her on a flight five hours later. Killing time during the long layover, she got distracted on a long phone call and missed that flight too. She has problems.

I’ve been a CLIP my whole life. I’ve made a bunch of friends mad at me, I’ve embarrassed myself again and again in professional situations, and I’ve run a cumulative marathon through airport terminals.

When I'm late, it’s often the same story, something like this:

I’ll be meeting someone, maybe a professional contact, at, say, a coffee place at 3:00. When I lay out my schedule for the day, I’ll have the perfect plan. I’ll leave early, arrive early, and get there around 2:45. That takes all the stress out of the situation, and that’s ideal because non-stressful commutes are one of my favorite things. It’ll be great — I’ll stroll out, put on a podcast, and head to the subway. Once I’m off the subway, with time to spare, I’ll take a few minutes to peruse storefronts, grab a lemonade from a street vendor, and enjoy New York. It’ll be such a joy to look up at the architecture, listen to the sounds, and feel the swell of people rushing by — oh magnificent city!

All I have to do is be off the subway by 2:45. To do that, I need to be on the subway by 2:25, so I decide to be safe and get to the subway by 2:15. So I have to leave my apartment by 2:07 or earlier, and I’m set. What a plan.

Here’s how it’ll play out (if you’re new to WBW, you’re advised to check this out before proceeding):

CLIPs are strange people. I’m sure each CLIP is insane in their own special way, and to understand how they work, you’ll usually have to get to some dark inner psychology.

For me, it’s some mix of these three odd traits:

1. I’m late because I’m in denial about how time works.

The propensity of CLIPs to underestimate how long things take comes out of some habitual delusional optimism. Usually what happens is, of all the times the CLIP has done a certain activity or commute, what they remember is that one time things went the quickest. And that amount of time is what sticks in their head as how long that thing takes. I don’t think there’s anything that will get me to internalize that packing for a weeklong trip takes 20 minutes. In my head, it’s eternally a five-minute task. You just take out the bag, throw some clothes in it, throw your toiletries in, zip it up, and done. Five minutes. The empirical data that shows that there are actually a lot of little things to think about when you pack and that it takes 20 minutes every time is irrelevant. Packing is clearly a five-minute task. As I type this, that’s what I believe.

2. I’m late because I have a weird aversion to changing circumstances.

Not sure what the deal is with this, but something in me is strangely appalled by the idea of transitioning from what I’m currently doing to doing something else. When I’m at home working, I hate when there’s something on my schedule that I have to stop everything for to go outside and do. It’s not that I hate the activity — once I’m there I’m often pleased to be there — it’s an irrational resistance to the transition. The positive side of this is it usually means I’m highly present when I finally do haul my ass somewhere, and I’m often among the last to leave.

3. Finally, I’m late because I’m mad at myself.

There’s a pretty strong correlation here — the worse I feel about my productivity so far that day, the more likely I am to be late. When I’m pleased with how I’ve lived the day so far, the Rational Decision-Maker has a much easier time taking control of the wheel. I feel like an adult, so it’s easy to act like an adult. But times when the monkey had his way with me all day, when the time rolls around that I need to stop working and head out somewhere, I can’t believe that this is all I’ve gotten done. So my brain throws a little tantrum, refusing to accept the regrettable circumstances, and stages a self-flagellating protest, saying, "NO. This cannot be the situation. Nope. You didn’t do what you were supposed to do, and now you’ll sit here and get more done, even if it makes you late."

So yeah, that’s why I’m late. Because I have problems.

Don’t excuse the CLIPs in your life — it’s not OK, and they need to fix it. But remember: It’s not about you. They have problems.

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Today, I'm a 35-year-old man with a flame shaved into my beard. If the '80s movies I love so much are any indication, this is a sure sign I'm going through some kind of existential crisis. Next week, when the semester starts and I begin teaching again, it will not be strange if my colleagues start to worry about me just a little. A sports car or a neck-jerking pivot to physical fitness — that's an understandable response to the realization that life is fleeting. But a large meticulous flame carved out of facial hair? What does one do with that?

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"Live Mas!" I shout back without any irony. There is no irony here in Palm Springs, where, for four days only, hundreds of people celebrate their love for Taco Bell.

Here, there's only swimming and hot sauce-themed leisure wear, and the warm pleasant feeling that comes from eating too much and knowing that you're with your own people. Even if the only thing that connects you is a love for a fast food giant that feeds you when you're hammered and shameless at 2 a.m.

We drank the Baja Blast! My Taco Bell fade and my friend's specialty manicure!Mark Shrayber

What does it mean to Live Mas? This is a question I am forced to ask myself over and over during my 24-hour stay at "The Bell," where I have stowed away as a friend's plus-one. We are, of course, both politely pretending that I'm a full-on guest with all the perks that entails, but we also both know that I wouldn't be here eating unlimited quesadillas poolside without her.

So maybe that's the first thing Live Mas means: To build strong lifelong connections which you can, with some luck, exploit to your benefit. :) :) :)

But this is too cynical an interpretation, because everyone here is so happy. Happy that they've gotten a reservation; happy that they can cool off in a room themed after an iconic Mountain Dew Drink, and happy that they can share their own personal story of what Taco Bell means to them. (Though there's no formal essay contest — I've checked.)

Me: This room won't be that cool. Also me: OH MY GOD, THIS IS THE COOLEST ROOM I'VE EVER BEEN IN!!!Mark Shrayber

Snatches of this story float around the "Fire" pool, where all the entertainment is concentrated: One couple canceled their trip to Prague because "Prague will always be there" — a brave stance considering climate change; another met last year on Tinder after the girlfriend's Taco Bell senior photos went viral; at the opening ceremony on Thursday, where sauce packets were cut instead of a ribbon, a city official brought others to tears with both her Taco Bell fashion and a memory of how her parents would feed an entire family with 19-cent-tacos from the first-ever Taco Bell in Downey, California.

Oh, I forgot one: The guy who skipped out on Prague? He got a giant bell shaved into the side of his head, so he might have to miss out on a black-tie event happening later this week. But it's all good. Bring on the nacho fries.

I make fast friends with four women who are here for a bachelorette party, the bride overwhelmed with good vibes and prosecco. This year, for her 30th, she rented a party bus. Inside? $100 worth of Taco Bell that her fiancee was worried might not be consumed.

"But little did he know," she shouts in the hot tub where we're "cooling off" after a long day of 108-degree sunning, "we ate it all!"

A bachelorette party and a birthday! We're really living it up (but also staying hydrated.)Mark Shrayber

Others whoop it up at the twist, but we all get it. Though there's no essay contest, I don't mind telling you that when my first boyfriend dumped me 14 years ago, I stuffed my face with chalupas. When I lost a job I really loved four years ago, I once ordered so much Taco Bell that the delivery app of my choice informed me I'd exceeded the maximum number of items they could comfortably fill in one order. We get it — though none of us can truly explain it.

There are, if you look at the The Bell from a literary perspective, many other writers who deserve this experience more than me. They could talk about the blue of the pool. Or the insouciance of youth. Draw parallels between marketing stunts such as this and the end-stage capitalism. Or envision a "Demolition Man" future where Taco Bell is fine dining and none of us know how to use the three shells in the bathroom to get ourselves clean.

And I wish these writers could be here to paint you these landscapes, but what you've got is me, a literal Taco Bell super-fan, and what I'm doing is eating and getting sunburned and taking a synchronized swimming class with the Aqualillies, who refer to themselves as "the world's most glamorous water ballet entertainment," but have very little idea of what to do with 10 eager recruits who can't stay afloat or on beat.


G-L-A-M-O-R-O-U-S!!Photo courtesy of Taco Bell.

"It's okay," one of the instructors comforts me just before the Tacolilies (the name of our "team") are invited to perform our watery version of "Senorita" — which was supposed to be two minutes long, then 1:15, and has now been judiciously cut down, due to talent, to about 45 seconds — in the bigger pool. "We regularly teach five-year-olds. And you're doing much better."

Usually, I would take offense at such blatant reads, but today I'm unbothered. I'll continue to be so right until I get home and discover that I've left all my electronics on United Flight 5223 (if anyone wants to get them back to me). And even then, I rage at myself for all of five seconds before checking that I've still got what's important: A certificate that says I did not drown while doing water ballet.

It's still there. As is my phone, which is blowing up with messages from people who took pictures of me in what Taco Bell calls its "power suit," and which is best described as "cult outfit, but kinda make it fashion." I bought my husband one, too, and I look forward to the argument we're going to have about holiday cards later.

This is "Live Mas."

I've never been so happy to match with someone else in my life. MaMark Shrayber

Or maybe it's the moment another stranger tells me that we'll be friends forever. Such friendships are forged quickly when you've got less than 24 hours to make lifelong connections and I'm pleased to get the full experience.

"We may never meet again," he says while we're swimming, "but we'll always have this time together."

Then we establish that he lives just across the park from me in San Francisco.

"Aw, man," he says, floating away to take pictures of the people he came with, "I've got lots of close friends I never see because they live across that damn park."

But the sentiment holds.

We Live Mas it on.

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