I met the devil two weeks ago in a donut shop. I was trying to get a half-dozen custard-filled pastries for my family while on vacation at a small, family-run breakfast shack. It was an easy Sunday morning off of Front Beach Road in Laguna Beach, Florida where I found myself at the tail end of a 60 person, stand-still queue that wrapped around the contours of the famous hut. And there he was—Beelzebub—punching in his orders:
“Two dozen glazed, one dozen chocolate covered, two large Diet Cokes (lots of ice)” — this Parrothead held up the line for a good ten minutes by adding the Diet Cokes to his order. The girl at the counter politely pushed back at his beverage request, hoping to keep the line moving by focusing orders on the specialty—donuts. He insisted that he and his wife needed icy Diet Cokes with their to-go donut order. He stood his ground at the outdoor counter window while she changed gears and plastic gloves to accommodate his carbonated needs, rapping his heavy fingers on the wilted wood checkout bar, gloating at the special attention while the line continued to grow behind him.
“Four lemon-filled, two cake, and yaknowwhatsweetie biscuits and gravy to go” — “Because it’s on the menu sign.” Even after informing this tightly wound, stocky Alabama football fan that full breakfast menu items are served inside at the sit-down, table-service wing of the restaurant and that the outside counter was for to-go pastry orders, the Crimson Tide persisted, employing that “the customer is always right.” Roll Tide.
“Let me see…hmmm…I guess I should look at what you have, right? How are the bear claws? Is it like this every morning? Do you have any low fat options? Can you split this order on two tickets?” — These two soccer moms, clad in full yoga attire, had spent 40 minutes standing in line gossiping about people from their hometowns, ignoring the menu in clear sight until it was their turn to approach the counter. They also left their purses and wallets in their SUV—something they didn’t realize until they finalized their order and were given their total. Then they paid with credit cards. They were oblivious to everyone around them.
“Three dozen glazed with some to-go boxes (wink)” — This fancy grandmother stood at the end of the line for five minutes before she out-smarted the system. She walked into the sit-down restaurant with her two granddaughters, placed her large order with a waitress, packaged them in her to-go boxes and was back in her Lexus before three people in the outside donut line had ordered. She had no care that her order took the teen at the outside counter off-task to prioritize a sit-down customer’s donut order. Fifteen people from the end of the line observed her skillful bypass and followed suit, log-jamming both the outside donut window and the inside breakfast table service. She didn’t care. She had her donuts.
I was ready to boil. Here it was—the pervasive culture of Western entitlement on full display at the last holdout of modest human decency—the donut shop. My faith in humanity was crushed. I only needed seven donuts and I had my order memorized for twenty minutes. I really didn’t mind the wait, but I did mind the reason for the wait. Didn’t these people realize their self-important actions were compounding the wait for all of us? After standing in line for over 75 minutes, it was finally my turn to order. I stepped up to the counter with intentionality, like George Constanza ordering soup. I had my cash ready—to the estimated dime of my order. I was already proud of how efficient I was about to be.
“Two glazed, two cake, two key lime, one lemon, please” — which were my exact words, but it sounded more like, “God, I thank you that I am not like others—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even this tax collector…” I got in the car with my box of donuts, deeply disappointed that the sin I observed was no different than the sin in my own heart—the age-old lie that I’m somehow better than everyone else in line. And it really doesn’t matter where I am in that line—even if I’m in the back, I still manage to convince myself that I’m superior to the people in the front, even it means grossly distorting Jesus on the whole first/last business. And it doesn’t seem to matter where the line is—donut shop, DMV, or Holy Communion—because I still believe that being in the front of a line makes me superior, too. So I bowed my head and prayed the Publican’s prayer instead, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” These kinds of confessions have a way of restructuring how we see ourselves in the Line. Sometimes, the devil’s in the donuts.