In praise of being late

Squeezing in “one more thing.”

I saw an article on the NPR website back in January. The title was In praise of being late: The upside of spurning the clock.

I have a complicated relationship with timeliness vs. tardiness. On one side, I HATE HATE HATE getting to an airport anywhere near late. I got to the airport less than 30 minutes before takeoff back in 2009; this caused considerable disruption. Back in the 1980s, my father took me to that very same airport, and I was literally running through the terminal as my name was being called over the loudspeaker. Did I mention that I HATE it?

Likewise, I like a time cushion when taking a train or even an intracity bus. Indeed, I’ve been known to lie to myself about the departure time.

I’ve attended a fair number of meetings in my time. When running them, I like to start on time, not so much for my sake as out of respect for others. Some people prefer to give some time to those who may be tardy. I’m even more impatient in ZOOM meetings; let’s finish this!


I had a job that did not involve the general public. So being five minutes late was of no real consequence. Yet one office character was quite fussy about it, ironic since she often left early. 

Generally, when I was late, I was tending to my daughter, or the bus was running late.

I understand that, after the office went remote when COVID hit, the hours became a bit more flexible.  It took a pandemic to do what I thought was common sense.

My household

The NPR article reads, “Are you, like me, chronically late? Do you squeeze in ‘one more thing’ before you leave home, only to lose track of time?” I used to say my wife was always late, and she’d insist that she was never late. The truth is somewhere in between.

When she was teaching, she was seldom tardy.  But if we were going to leave to go shopping, and she said we’re leaving at 2:30, we’d more than likely be going out the door at 2:45. Note that she set the time, not me, then fails to meet her own deadline. 

This used to irritate me, truth to tell, because she was/is one of those “one more thing” people. Now I pull out my phone and play backgammon or read a magazine until she is ready. 


I came across a 2014 NPR article entitled Running Late? Nah, Just On ‘CPT’.

“It’s hard to tell where this concept originated. But one of the earliest versions I came across was from a 1914 issue of the Chicago Defender, in a race-manners column penned by D.W. Johnson. And he clearly thought that adherents to CPT were, um, rude:

“If there is any fault among colored people that needs an immediate remedy, it is a lack of punctuality, to learn how necessary it is to be on time, to be prompt and punctual in their engagements, to meet on time at social and public gatherings. It is perfectly absurd that so many of our people, sometimes unconsciously and sometimes willfully, wholly disregard the important fact of punctuality. … We have in our method of gathering what is commonly called, in the vernacular of the street, ‘colored people’s time.’ “

But “If almost every community — Latinos and Irish folks and Indian-Americans and LGBT folks and West Indians and many, many others — have a cultural norm of not being perfectly on time — then shouldn’t arriving on time be the thing that gets its own special snowflake phrase? It seems, from people’s responses, that CPT is basically Everyone Standard Time — that early or punctual arrivers are the exceptions.”

Operating on different cultural clocks

In other words, some have argued: “punctuality is a social construct.” There are studies analyzing Cultural Norms Regarding Lateness for Meetings and Appointments. In international relations, these are important to understand. 

I can try to be more mellow about delays as long as it doesn’t involve scheduled transportation.

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