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Family Matters: Parking Lot Parables


By Claire Mullen

There are two types of people in this world. And no, I’m not talking maskers and non-maskers vaxxers and anti-vaxxers, or even Hellmann’s versus Duke’s faithfuls. The two polarizing categories to which I’m referring should not elicit any sort of debate.

There is no gray area or spectrum onto which one can land between these two extremes. All of humankind can be neatly divided into two groups: those good and decent folks who return their shopping carts to the proper place and the poor, depraved souls who do not.

I have long been an observer of parking lot etiquette, both in the sense that I like to practice it myself and that I also like to watch to see if others do the same. Oftentimes and
unfortunately, it seems as though busy parking lots, whether those of the supermarket, the home improvement store, or your preferred bargain shopping center, are where common courtesy and manners go to die.

For example, several months ago, I found myself waiting in an unusually long line at the drive-thru of the burger joint that shares a parking lot with the store with the red and white bullseye logo and the mysterious vortex that, if you’re anything like me, will pull you in and rob you of too much valuable free time and every last cent of your pocket money.

Anyway, the line didn’t move for a very long time. My phone battery was nearly dead, so to pass the time, I bypassed the usual mindless scrolling on social media in favor of some good, old-fashioned people-watching. I observed a mother and her young daughter push a heavily laden, trademark huge red cart to their SUV. I smiled as the mom lovingly helped her little shopping companion pull down her face mask, and carefully applied squirts of hand sanitizer into each of her palms. She boosted her child into the car and made sure she was buckled into her seat before methodically loading her purchases, one bag at a time, into the back of the car.

And then, Mom took hold of her empty buggy and with one little shove, pushed it away from her own vehicle into a small row of adjacent empty parking spaces. No, not into one of several nearby cart return bays – she didn’t even glance in their direction. It was obvious that she had zero intention of doing the right thing. That this was probably habitual for her. It took no time for a gust of wind to cause the slow-rolling cart to pick up enough speed to slam smack into the passenger door of someone else’s shiny sports car. The crash was audible to me, sitting in my car with the windows down and radio on.

I know that that woman heard it too, as she stood at her door fiddling with her purse and keys. I waited to see if she’d do the right thing. There was little chance that she’d
check to see if the car had been damaged, but maybe she’d at least retrieve the cart and rethink where it should go. Nope. That
woman, who I had watched so diligently take care of everything that belonged to her, hopped in her vehicle and drove away.

I imagine that she didn’t realize that someone was watching her, and wonder if that knowledge would have changed her actions. I would certainly hope so. I thought about what this taught her little daughter (or maybe more accurately, what it failed to teach her), and made a mental note to remind my own two children about the importance of always returning your shopping cart.

And then just several weeks later, my own sweet husband became the victim of someone else’s parking lot incivility. As is customary for our family on springtime Saturday mornings, the four of us loaded into his 2012 Toyota 4Runner to drive out to Ramsey Street for Little League soccer. That truck has been a trusty vehicle since we bought it. It’s now almost 10 years old. I imagine that my husband would love to have a brand new, fully loaded, heavy duty pick-up, but he’s perfectly content to wheel around in his paid-off SUV, who still serves her purpose – getting him to and from his office, hauling a golf bag, and toting kids clad in grassy jerseys and muddy soccer cleats – just fine.

In almost a decade, that car has not seen an accident and has been well taken care of by her owner. It wasn’t until we returned from the soccer complex and pulled back
into our driveway that I noticed a massive dent in the front bumper, which now sagged a little to one side. Upon further inspection, I found a big crack that ran the length of the underside of the bumper. Someone had backed into our car hard enough to cause a good deal of damage, and had simply just left. No note under the windshield, no effort to track us down, and no honest report to the staff in the field office. I threatened to spend the rest of my son’s season parked by the field entrance examining each and every vehicle that

I told my husband that I had half a mind to post a nasty message to the Fayetteville Soccer Club Facebook page warning the hit-and-run offender of legal action if we were
able to identify them through parking lot camera footage before they came forward to confess and agree to pay to repair our vehicle.

But, my always level-headed and everforgiving spouse (who I imagine was also a little terrified of the idea of his “spirited” wife stopping parking lot traffic to perform a citizen’s arrest in full view of the entire Little Kickers soccer team) told me to just let it go. I am honestly still seething over that incident and maybe one day will learn to give as much grace as my husband can. Although I’ve seen my fair share of folks ditch their carts or their trash in the middle of a parking lot, hit the gas to cut in and steal a prime spot from a person patiently waiting with their blinker on, undeservingly use a space intended for someone with a handicapped tag, and have been at the receiving end of several unfortunate parking
lot hit-and-runs over the years, I’ve also witnessed a young mother with a newborn strapped to her front sprint her buggy to the cart return in pouring rain while also pulling
a toddler by the hand. I’ve been that mother, struggling to wrangle two children and groceries into the car and had strangers offer to return my empty cart. I’ve seen a teenage
boy stop in his tracks to help an elderly woman load her bags. I’ve watched my own 7-year-old pick up a discarded empty plastic bottle from the pavement and take it to its
rightful place in the outdoor recycling bin. At the risk of sounding a little melodramatic, I’d like to suggest that parking lots really are microcosms of humanity.

How we behave in them says a lot about how we conduct ourselves in general, and even what our core values are. Claire Mullen can be reached at clairejlmullen@gmail.com
(particularly if you would like to confess to an incident involving a certain innocent 4Runner).