I went to the mall the other day. I know, malls are dead, but stay with me. It was a busy day for a Thursday, or maybe I just don’t go to malls that often. Regardless, there wasn’t a lot of parking. Sure, there was some way out in nowheresville, but I wanted something close to the entrance.
As I wandered through the lot, it hit me:
Choosing a parking spot is not a question of convenience, it’s a matter of status.
Sure, it’s nice to have your car close when you’ve got your arms full with bags of shit you just bought and probably don’t need. But that isn’t the real reason you spend more time finding a nearby spot than it would have taken to walk the difference.
You’re going to a mall. You’re going to be walking around, for what will add up to miles. What is the point of spending 2, 3 or even more minutes driving around (or worse, idling as a vulture) for a spot that’s 50 yards closer to the entrance than the many available spots a little further away? Have you ever spent time looking for a good parking spot at the gym? Right? You’re literally going to the gym to get exercise, but there is something inside you that pushes you to find a desirable parking spot.
Parking is one of the few remaining democratized value-systems in everyday life. Every driver has an equal chance of arriving at that lucky moment when an ideal spot near the entrance just happens to be open. We all have about the same odds. Well, except for people with handicap stickers. But, for the most part, everybody else—regardless of socio-economic standing—has the same shot at a great spot.
And that’s becoming less and less common in the world. If you were to assign a dollar figure to parking spots, the up-close spots would all cost more. Much more. And don’t get me started with the up-close pull-throughs – being able to exit without backing up? Cha-ching.
Because parking spots have an informal, but generally-agreed-upon value hierarchy, there’s kind of a micro-economy going on – people compete for the best spaces not because their bodies will shut down if they have to walk an extra 20 feet, but because we’ve been conditioned to take advantage of additional value whenever we spot it.
Sure, Bobby Jo may not have a great job, but dayum, did he ever get an awesome parking spot! In a just-barely-more-commercialized society, that spot would be reserved for some rich bish, but lucky for you and me, we still live in a world where this very desirable stall is available for all who happen to show up at the right time; or are willing to game the system by waiting around like a vulture.
Sure, I may have to wait in line longer at KnotsBerry Farms for the spoiled kid sporting the Fast Lane pass. And yeah, I may have to hop into an uber-pool instead of getting my own, individually customized route to my destination. But, dammit, when I go to the grocery store, or the mall, or even the gym, at least I know that I in my pinto have the same chance of getting a high-value parking spot as has the asshole driving the BMW. And that may make all the difference.