Parking Lot Ethics

sally - rixeyville, Virginia
Entered on April 30, 2008

I believe in parking lot ethics.

It’s not easy to be kind under extreme conditions, and grocery store parking lots are places of great extremes: too many vehicles mixed with too many pedestrians who bear too great a burden: bags, children, anxiety. In fact, the effects of road rage pale in comparison to parking-lot delirium.

As a result, there is no place in the world with more potential for amorality than a grocery store parking lot. In some cases, the rules are not clear, which might excuse some bad behavior. But most of the time, they’re straightforward, common-sense stuff: brake for pedestrians, park within the lines, etc. Those basic expectations are, though, invariably ignored.

Partly to blame is the grocery store itself. For a lucky few, going to the grocery store is like entering a living museum. For most, though, it is a time-consuming and ill-timed activity: after work or on a Sunday morning, when shoppers would rather be doing anything else. The lines are long; the choices overwhelming; the tendency to forget inevitable. So anger bubbles.

The greater part of the blame though, is the parking lot itself. Great masses enter far too small a space, and all are required to self-monitor. There are no police, no pinkertons, no brave employees in green vests willing to confront a wrong-doer. So a grocery store parking lot possesses the lawlessness of the wild west where a wild bunch refuses to let pedestrians cross, to put their carts away in the little, tented, zone relegated to carts, and to drive at a respectable pace.

Once, in Calamity-Jane mode, I pulled into a grocery store parking lot early afternoon, so traffic flow was light, as was the number of parked cars. Giddy with reckless freedom, I barreled along and whisked into a convenient spot: next to a fabulous antique Jaguar that had space available 360 degrees around it.

When I came from the grocery store, carrying my bags, the owner of the Jaguar was in his car, window rolled down.

He was waiting for me. Rather unpleasantly, he pointed out all the other spots in the lot in which I could have parked, instead of choosing to endanger his paint job with the door of my car or my swinging bag of canned goods.

Why hadn’t I thought of that?

Because, in those parking lots, we simply do not think.

Another day, though, a hot, still summer day, I went to the store mid-afternoon and I felt the luxury of time. A woman pulled into a spot between two SUVs and saw, blocking the way, an empty cart, abandoned and akimbo. The look on the driver’s face was one of absolute despair. And so I dashed to the cart and whisked it out of the way. When the woman emerged from her vehicle, she thanked me as if I had just saved her life.

Most of us focus our kindness on those in need. But I believe we are all in need. If we give a little in the grocery store parking lot, if we put our carts away and let pedestrians cross, imagine how much happier the world would be.