Matt Gray

Welcome to the jungle (the parking lot)

Dec 14, 2003

Christmas is a time of joy, giving, blah, blah, blah. Right? Wrong. This seems to be the one time of the year when we cast aside notions of altruism and helping out our fellow travellers in life. Yes, this is a time when selfishness reigns supreme, strangers are obstacles in your path, and alcoholism seems like an answer.

I say this because only today I encountered an example of this behavior. I was in the parking lot at Barnes & Noble, because I needed to purchase “The Basic Works of Aristotle”. I need this book in order to properly cite passages in my final paper, due for my philosophy course at the “U”. As a side effect, I was witness to a most interesting (and likely common) drama.

I was behind two cars: a Ford SUV of some sort, and a beat-up Pontiac. The SUV had been slowly crawling down the aisle of the lot, looking for people leaving. As often happens, the driver noticed a person getting in their car just as the SUV went too far forward to turn into the spot. The driver of the SUV placed his vehicle in reverse, reasoning that he or she could back up and take the spot when it is open. Alas, the driver in the Pontiac did not agree.

Despite the twin glaring white reverse lights of the SUV, the beat-up Pontiac stubbornly held its ground. It was a fight for survival, right in the parking lot. I watched with interest. The car that was leaving (a white Ford Taurus) started to reverse about a minute into this standoff. Of course, neither the SUV nor the Pontiac was budging. The annoying thing is, it was physically impossible for the poor departing Taurus to leave the spot with these two battling foes in the way. The driver of the Taurus made some initial attempts at reversing, to no avail. He or she even attempted to exit the space parallel to the giant SUV blocking its reverse path.

Finally, in the midst of this heroic attempt to leave the parking lot, the Pontiac goes into reverse and zooms backward. I pause expectantly, waiting for the SUV to follow suit. However, the Taurus seizes this opportunity, and exits the spot using the space freed up by the Pontiac. The Pontiac, no regard for the plight of the SUV, flies forward and darts into the newly-opened spot, nearly flattening a pedestrian. The SUV had no choice but to flip forward into Drive, tail between its legs.

Personally, I feel the Pontiac should have backed up. The Ford clearly recognized the spot opportunity before passing it totally by. On the other hand, if I had not allowed ample room for this drama to play out, backing up might have caused all of the cars waiting in line to back up simultaneously. The fact that the Taurus could very nearly get out of the spot supports my claim that the SUV was close enough for ‘dibs’.

Clearly, “Minnesota Nice” is not at work here. My own version of this ‘nice’ would have had me backing up to allow the SUV into the spot. After all, he was there and spotted it first, not me. This is open to many interpretations. Blinker precedence isn’t even being considered here.

This display of dog-eat-dog in the parking lot depressed me, leaving me with the conviction that at our core, we are all selfish opportunists. In the brief space of minutes while I watched this play out, I could see the relationship of this primal urge of “Me first” to murder, cheating, stealing, etc.

As a result, I simply chose not to play the game (as I had still not found any open spots), so I drove over to the Cub Foods parking lot, went about twenty spots beyond the farthest car, parked, and enjoyed the walk to the store, thinking about all of this. Now, the question is, why did I do this?

Was I displaying weakness by refusing to fight over parking spot prey? In more primal times, would this response invariably select against me and my ilk in the long term? It’s all a matter of perspective.

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