My local supermarket has the required handicapped parking spaces in front of the store, but it also has “Customer With Child” parking, a convenience that has lately been the source of a few parking lot disagreements. Patrons of the store don’t seem to be quite so clear on what the sign means. Is it for customers with young children only? Are expectant mothers allowed to use those spots? What about patrons who leave their children in the car while they run in for “just one thing”? And patrons who merely pull in to stop there while another passenger runs in?
The supermarket is a 24 hour facility. I sometimes shop there late at night because it’s convenient, but when I do I often will take a “With Child” spot. If the lot is empty, I don’t see why I should park elsewhere, and these aren’t permit spots. During regular business hours I have no problems parking elsewhere. But not everyone shares that opinion.
Last Saturday, I stopped in to do my shopping. While I walked to the store entrance, I passed a woman and a young couple who were in the midst of exchanging words about parking arrangements. The couple was loading their groceries into the car—correction, the man was loading the groceries, the woman appeared to be in her second trimester and she was preventing the cart from rolling into the lot. The woman had parked next to them—also in a “With Child” spot, but they were closer to the door. She had left a minivan full of kids waiting for her. She didn’t appear to be in a hurry. As I passed, she said to the couple, “I thought these spots are reserved for people with kids.” The man was in the process of closing his trunk. “Excuse me,” he said. “We’re expecting.” The woman repeated in what I thought was a snarky tone, “You’re expecting.” “Yeah. It’s parking for people who need the extra help, lady.” She literally scoffed at them, turned on her heel and stomped into the store.
What is it about parking that brings out the enforcer in people? The sign pictured about tells me those spots are held in reserve for people who have young children with them and are taking them into the store. But really, it’s a convenience that should be extended to anyone with a need to be close to the store, which includes pregnant woman and the elderly. It may take these people longer to get to the store, and there are security benefits as well (e.g., if an older adult trips and falls, and the lot is near empty—as it can be—it’s easier to get help from the store). Now maybe the woman who complained was on her way home with her family, or had nieces and nephews visiting. I don’t know what her story was, but I don’t think she necessarily needed the spot in the same way that the pregnant woman might have needed the convenience of the spot.
But she was the one who chose to say something. Parking spots seem to make us territorial. We want the best possible spot—it becomes a display of strategy in crowded lots. Drivers resort to following consumers who may potentially be leaving, creeping slowly up and down the aisles. I’ve seen drivers out maneuver other drivers by reversing into spots. I’ve seen drivers try to claim spots by signaling even though they are an aisle away and there is another vehicle closer and prepared to take the spot. It’s almost as though we immediately size up the other driver and determine that they don’t deserve the spot. And perhaps they don’t—but shouldn't individuals in need have preference? Of course, then I suppose we enter the realm of defining need.