Christina Bentley

(Columnist’s Note: I sincerely wish this reprint from 2015 weren’t still timely and relevant today, but, alas, now that the east side Kroger has 12 different entrances into its parking lot, I fear this is an even more necessary holiday message.)

Just in case you haven’t noticed, because perhaps you’ve only just emerged from hibernation, this is a time of year when a large number of people are out and about. Between shopping for gifts, shopping for charity, shopping for decorations, and shopping for party food, the stores are busy.

All of this means that early December is a time when stores are overcrowded. And because stores are overcrowded, parking lots are overcrowded. And because parking lots are overcrowded, people who generally make a habit of steering large metal boxes around on wheels and don’t have a problem any other time have slowly but surely begun to lose their minds.

The time has come to have a little tutorial for the parking lot challenged. Buckle up. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

First of all, all parking lots, even those that are just giant concrete pads, have a traffic flow. They are designed for cars to park in some places and drive in others. If you’re my age, it has probably been quite some time since you studied traffic laws or took a driving test, but you still might remember that parking places are designated by white or yellow lines in roughly the size and shape of a car.

In the most basic of parking lots, traffic lanes can be assumed to be those places where there are no parking spaces. You can figure it out by process of elimination.

Some parking lots, in elaborate feats of planning, engineering and symbolic communication, have actually painted arrows and lane markings between the parking spaces telling you in very clear terms which way you should go. If the arrow is pointing toward you, you are going the wrong way. If you are driving around where there are clearly designated parking spaces, you are going the wrong way. If everyone else is coming straight at you, it’s wise to assume that you are going the wrong way. See how that works?

Also, when you leave your vehicle somewhere to enter a store, that vehicle should be in a nicely painted white or yellow box that indicates a parking space. Each box is intended for one vehicle. If you literally cannot place your vehicle inside that box, I’m sorry, but it’s time for you to stop driving—or at least to stop driving that vehicle.

I have yet to see the personal vehicle that literally would not fit in a standard parking space. What I HAVE seen, all too often, are vehicles too large for the driving skills of the driver or too expensive for the driver’s means. Because the driver has sunk 40 percent of his or her net worth into a vehicle, for instance, it needs to be parked where it cannot possibly be hit by another car door, taking up at least two spaces or maybe more if the driver is really talented.

I have also seen drivers who so vastly overestimate the size of their vehicle that they pull all the way across, blocking part of the space behind. If it feels too big for you, dude, drive something smaller.

Here’s a handy cheat sheet on some places that are NOT parking spaces: the fire lane (clearly designated by big stripes and the words “Fire Lane No Parking”); handicapped spaces if you are not handicapped (clearly designated by blue lines and the words “Handicapped Parking Only”); any portion of the sidewalk of the store you are going into; and anywhere that is clearly a driving lane (recognizable by the absence of parking spaces and the fact that people are trying to drive around you when you stop there).

Please also try to keep in mind that parking spaces right now are at a premium. If a store is particularly busy, there may be cars meandering around looking for spaces to park in. Those spaces are so people can leave their cars and go into the store to shop.

To quote my good friend upon learning of this column, “Please include that when people are scouring the parking lot searching for places to park, you don’t get in your car and do a dance and play a game and cook a roast for dinner before you pull out.”

Good advice. Not only is it inconsiderate, it’s dangerous. Police officers have been warning us for several years now that going to your car and sitting in it while you perform mundane tasks makes you extremely vulnerable to muggers and carjackers, who are especially active this time of year.

And last of all, if you are lucky enough to be making sufficient purchases in a store to require a shopping cart, return your cart to its designated location. There is simply no excuse for leaving a shopping cart loose in a parking lot or, even worse, lifting it up over a curb so that it’s “locked” there.

I understand that for a very small percentage of the population this is extremely difficult. Although I have personally watched more than one elderly woman on a stability cane carefully guide a shopping cart across the lot and into the cart corral, I will give the elderly, the disabled, and the very, very pregnant the benefit of the doubt.

But getting your cart back to where it needs to be is part of getting your purchases to your car. If you know you can’t do it (if you are disabled, for instance, or very, very pregnant) ask for help from the cashier. Even stores that don’t regularly offer help have people available. You say, “I need help getting my purchases to my car,” and they get you help. Then they make sure the cart gets where it belongs.

Here is a partial list of excuses that are NOT EVER valid reasons for not returning your shopping cart to the cart corral: it’s raining; my kids are driving me crazy; I’m going to be late for work/school/church/whatever; the temperature dropped suddenly and I’m not dressed for the weather; I just received an important text notification; I’m in a bad mood and want to inconvenience others.

Here is a partial list of excuses that probably ARE valid reasons for not returning your shopping cart to the cart corral: I was carjacked; I collapsed in the parking lot while unloading my purchases; I or my car was struck by another vehicle/a meteor/a round of ammunition.

I trust you see the difference and can extrapolate from there.

In general, all of this is perfectly appropriate holiday advice. It’s pretty simple really. Peace on earth, goodwill to men requires you to think of your fellow man. You consider their feelings. You try to imagine what their lives are like and not only to wish the best for them but also to try and make it so. You try, whenever possible, not to make a complete nuisance of yourself. In short, you try to make other people’s lives easier and more pleasant.

That’s what goodwill to men is. I like to think of myself as mostly a pleasant person, but don’t think for a minute that if you start telling me the reason for the season in the Kroger parking lot, I might not tell you that if you want peace on earth, you can start by getting your Kia out of the fire lane.

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