I have had the most amazing week. A few days ago, I was thrilled with the events of the afternoon and then this morning, it happened again. Life does not get much better. Unfortunately, my daughter could not comprehend the gravity or importance of this monumental occurrence, so I have been trying to educate her.
Sunday afternoon, I was pulling into the Wal-Mart parking lot and was immediately reminded of why I need to plan my trips a little more intentionally. We have one of those super Wal-Marts that is bigger than many small towns, and on the weekends and some evenings, the crowds can be quite overwhelming. As I approached the lot and saw the hundreds of cars, I immediately started to reconsider how much we needed the items I came to get. The over-crowded aisles and the long check-out lines would make this a miserable experience, as usual. I need to remember to plan my Wal-Mart excursions for weekdays, but I decided to brave the masses since I was already there. However, first, I had to find a parking space.
Being the middle of summer, I do not want to walk across 300-degree asphalt any further than I have to, so I began the quest for a decent parking spot. I started my usual routine by pulling into the side entrance to drive by the front doors. This is more than just habit, there is a reason for this approach. Coming in from the side gives me a better view of the front spots. I can quickly scan the spots to my left while I dodge the endless stream of shopping carts exiting the store to my right. This foot traffic does pose a serious hazard, but gives me the slow-motion drive-by opportunity needed to find what I am looking for.
If I come in the front entrance and am driving directly toward the front of the store, there are too many parked cars in the way of potential empty spaces located in the acceptable parking zones. Plus, due to this vastly inferior viewing angle, sometimes a space occupied by a sub-compact or a motorcycle is mistaken for being empty, causing me to bypass various parking opportunities while pursuing what gave the illusion of being a better choice. Upon discovering that the spot is not empty and realizing I should have taken the one I passed two spaces back, it is usually too late to back up because of the Jeep behind me who now thinks that is her spot just because I passed it.
Finding the right spot is crucial in determining the initial mood for embarking on a shopping journey. This concept is held even more dear in other parts of the world. When I lived in Puerto Rico, I was amazed to discover that they had valet parking at Wal-Mart. Being what my ex-wife called ’cheap,’ I never took advantage of this service, but I definitely saw the attraction. These Wal-Marts would rope off all the best spots and then charge the customers to use them. If I wanted to park close, I had to pay for it, however, there was a much greater downside than just having to park further away. Being a major metropolitan area, the parking lot could not accommodate the numbers of cars trying to find a space. So, the people who did not take advantage of the valet ‘convenience’ may not be lucky enough to find a spot at all. However, my frugal nature and sense of adventure would step up to the challenge every time. Because of this, we started to participate in a creepy practice I called ‘shopper-stalking.’ I did not invent this practice and it took a while to understand the unwritten cultural rules for how it works, but the concept was pretty simple.
After cruising up and down all the aisles and determining that there are literally no spots available (not even on the furthest reaches of the lot), drivers start to watch for spots that are about to become vacant. One of the best ways to get a spot is to follow a shopper to their car. This is the creepy part. As an exiting shopper walks into one of the parking rows, if you are swift enough to be the first car behind her, you may be able to get her spot when she pulls out. There are some rules that must be obeyed. The pedestrian, upon noticing that she is being ‘stalked,’ walks on the right side of the lane. The ‘stalker’ stays to the right as well. This allows other cars to pass since the first car has already laid claim to her spot. However, that claim has not been made unless the ‘stalker’ has turned on the right turn signal. Once that signal comes on, it communicates to the other drivers that this spot will be yours, despite the fact that you do not yet know where it is located.
Since these parking lots cover vast spaces, it may take several minutes for the shopper to reach their car and I never did grow accustomed to creeping behind a walking person in my car. It felt so sinister. That is why I called it ‘shopper-stalking.’ Plus, if the person you are following passes between the cars to get at her vehicle in another row, you then have a legal right to race to the next row over and run her down. I only had to do this once, but I did not feel good about it. Her spot wasn’t that good anyway.
Now that I am back in Illinois, I do not have to ‘shopper-stalk’ any longer. My local store always has parking available, even on the busiest days, but I may have to walk for it. I am not doing that. I do not know why I cannot park at the back of the lot, but I just can’t do it. My daughter will get upset because I will spend an extra 10 minutes cruising around the lot to get a spot that is three spaces closer than the one I turned down earlier.
I am willing to trek all over town on foot, so this is not about laziness. Maybe it is male ego or the inability to reject the challenge. I don’t know, but I will not exit the vehicle until I have found what my friend Dawn calls ROCK STAR PARKING. Maybe it is an ego thing.
So, it is a crowded Sunday afternoon and I am approaching the store from the side. I carefully maneuver through the throng of exiting shopping carts, motorized wheelchairs, and leashed toddlers while scanning the spaces. I take the first row right after the doors to look for available spots. The first empty spot is about 15 spaces back. Not good enough. I cut through the row of parked cars to now approach the row right in front of the doors. It appears that there are no close spots in this row either so I will have to go another row over to try my luck. However, as I got close to the end of the row, I saw back up lights come on to my right. This person was pulling out of the very front space! The coveted front space! Only handicapped spaces are closer!
I immediately threw it in reverse to give them room, but someone started honking. There was a car right on my bumper. I couldn’t back up. I quickly reassessed the space between my car and the one wanting to pull out and determined that it may be possible to get out if the driver was very careful and pulled in their trunk. I put the car in park to wait and see how this played out. My daughter exclaimed, “Dad, you have to pull up. They don’t have room.” I let her know I was not going to miss this opportunity. How often does this happen? I will never get to park this close again without a wheelchair. She rolled her eyes, got out of the car, and ran inside the store.
Determined to hold my ground, the driver calculated the extra space he had to work with since he was in the front spot and wasn’t pinned in by cars on both sides. As cars were honking at me and an old woman started tapping on my window, he finally figured it out. I proudly pulled my vehicle into the spot and stepped out of the car with my head held high. The cursing and rude gestures coming at me from random vehicles were not going to bring me down. I knew what I had just accomplished. I don’t remember what happened inside the store or how long it took me to locate my daughter, but it doesn’t matter. The best part had already happened.
Today, six days later, I return to Wal-Mart and am reminding Kirsten of the fantastic experience we had last time we were there. As she pretended to ignore me, I noticed that same spot was just open and waiting for me. I pulled into it with no problem and got to relive the moment again.