How to walk across a parking lot

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Ease up on the gas, that’s the first thing. Drop your speed to just a little slower than “necessary”, because to do this right you can’t be getting ahead of yourself.

And there could be kids around. Maybe yours even, if this is one of those times when you don’t know what they’re up to. As always, you’re in a china shop, so be gentle.

When you see a vacant spot, your natural tendency might be to thrust your motor-carriage in there as quickly as possible, antsy that some circling vulture in a Jeep YJ and white sunglasses will wheel in there first and pretend he didn’t see you already headed that way.

That won’t happen, but you should be prepared to let it. Letting angst park your car for you is a rookie mistake. There is a better spot farther away. Walking a little more is an advantage, unless you think (as many do) that walking across a parking lot is a wasted and purely obligatory part of a person’s life. Clearly you wouldn’t be reading this if you were truly convinced that the worthwhile part of life happens only once you’re across the parking lot, inside Wal-Mart or Safeway or whatever. 

If that first spot is your spot, and you can take it with grace, then do so. Or keep moving until you find one. You’ll find one.

Park. Turn off the ignition. Before you exit the carriage, pause for a moment. Now, I should clarify that by pause I don’t mean “wait.” There is nothing to wait for if you are pausing. To pause is to stop and pay attention. To wait is to stop your body while you continue to the next moment in your head. For a proper parking-lot-crossing — or a proper anything-else — we want to avoid this.

So pause, and at least remember how cool it is that you were able to sit all the way here. Your ancestors would have been too humble to even joke about a chair that hurtles across cities. You sat all the way here. Good for you, for living in such a time. If you do nothing else right today, at least you sat at fifty miles an hour.

Feel your weight in the seat, because you’re about to relieve it of its thankless services and let the pavement take over. Open the door, and as you do so, listen to exactly what it sounds like in the moment that inside becomes outside.

It’s a remarkable sound, and while you have a chance to hear it several times a day, you probably pass up most of those chances because your mind is somewhere else. Since we’re doing a high-quality crossing of the parking lot for a change, make sure you’re there for it this time.

Now you’re outside the car, standing on a great asphalt platter. This is not a bad time to stretch, but you don’t have to. You might as well. Stretching is something people generally don’t regret doing.

When it’s time to walk across the parking lot, don’t walk like everyone else. Most of them won’t even really be walking. Look around, they’re probably more marching than anything. Maybe scurrying. They want to be anywhere but walking across a parking lot.

A lot of the time when we’re walking, we’re doing it just so we can be done with walking. There are times when that’s not true though. If you can walk across a parking lot like you’re walking in a bathrobe from the shower to the kitchen on a saturday morning, then you can make vast swaths of your time on this earth much better. This is no joke. If you get it, you get it.

That bathrobe pace and posture is the proper way to cross a parking lot. It should feel like you’re traveling alongside the pool to the snack bar — nothing disagreeable about the in-between part, and it shows in your face and your pace. I guess the verb we’re looking for is basking. Bask while you walk. It doesn’t need to be “nice” out. Yes, you can bask in cold air too. You can bask in rain. And if it’s sunny, well, lucky you.

Even if you run into an anxious car waiting for you to cross a lane, do not hurry! You have the right of way but you may still be tempted to trot a little bit here. Don’t do it. Let them wait. Remember, waiting is a choice, and they’re sitting in a motorized throne with music and climate control. Continue your poolside pace, and don’t forget to enjoy this part too. Deciding not to worry about making someone wait is one of life’s great feelings.

Eventually you’ll run out of parking lot and you’ll find another door. Make sure you are there for the moment that outside turns to inside.

Do this. Millions of people live and die without ever suspecting that joy can be had in the simple act of crossing a parking lot. If you think this post is ridiculous, you may be one of them.


Photo by David Cain

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Sampson August 22, 2013 at 1:17 pm

I like this article a lot. The only thing a I disagree with is making other people wait. You should take in all of life everyday. I should do a better job experiencing my life on daily basis, and enjoy little privileges that this life and earth proved, like walking across a parking lot.

However, when I do this it’s my choice and prerogative. That other person should have the freedom to control their own experience as well. It’s not right that I have a moment to spend happily observing and enjoying my own life and decide not to acknowledge someone else that’s working toward improving and enjoying theirs. Even if that improvement is getting shopping done quicker to see their kids, or stopping for pedestrians and following the law, making my life and your life safer and better. I’m not doing them a favor, I’m doing myself a favor. The reward of being considerate is parallel with the gratification of enjoying every breath of fresh air we take.

I’m saying this because, if you’re enjoying the walk then you can enjoy the pause to let a car go by and get a parking spot to begin their enjoyable journey across the lot as well.

We have to share this planet and our lives with each other. We should enjoy ourselves at our own desired pace, but at our own expense as well. No?

AJ February 12, 2014 at 3:57 pm

Why is it right for you to pause for the person in the car, but not right for the person in the car to pause for you?

David Cain February 13, 2014 at 9:19 am

Hmmm… I didn’t say it wasn’t right for the person to pause for you. I was referring to the big crosswalk area in front of any major store, where we often trot across because we feel the impatience of hurried drivers and become impatient ourselves. The pedestrian has the right of way but often we let ourselves be pressured into hurrying.

Andie August 25, 2013 at 12:30 pm

I adore this article and I’m thankful beyond what words can express that I’m not one of those that won’t take the time to enjoy the journey of the parking lot. My kids and I don’t have a lot of money and we struggle in ways that most people don’t, but we excel quite well in ways that most people can’t begin to imagine.
My 20 year old daughter and I will sometimes go to the park and sit in the car with the windows down to just relax and it is amazing. She might read her book, or we both might recline our seat and close our eyes.. It’s absolutely stunning to just simply ‘ listen ‘ listen to the children playing and laughing, listen to an airplane flying over, the squirrels playing in the tree, the wind swaying the branches , the birds, and even the traffic three streets over and a world away… We leave the park feeling refreshed, alert in many ways and ready to tackle the rest of the day and looking forward to another day in the park doing nothing, but experiencing more than some people will ever be capable of experiencing in a lifetime..
There’s a lot to say about not having $$.

Tom D August 31, 2013 at 11:06 am

Lol, I did this the other day going from the car park to the post office.
Distance of maybe 300m. I had to go through an alley where a young couple where chatting. They were still there when I was returning. As I sauntered by them for the second time without a care in the world, I heard the girl say she thought I was about to cry!

James Davies October 1, 2013 at 1:44 pm

I’m sorry but anyone who gets joy out of crossing a parking lot needs to investigate a more fulfilling avenues in their life. This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever read.

Samantha October 13, 2013 at 7:48 am

I think u missed the point of the article.

Andrew November 12, 2013 at 12:33 pm

This concept is not always easy to understand. There was a day I would have felt the same way. This article is a good reminder of how to return to the basic joy of living. While that might seem ridiculously simplistic, if you give it a chance, I bet you’ll eventually realize that “this moment” is where all the magic lies. Oh, and there’s one quote from the book, Way Of The Peaceful Warrior, that seems to fit here: “A warrior learns to meditate in every action.” Have a nice day!

John Heinen May 7, 2014 at 5:54 pm

I’ve tried it. I like it !
I get tremendous pleasure reading your stuff. Very satisfying and gratifying; and like a great steak dinner, filling. It will take a while to read everything.
You’re a good thinker and a good writer.
Thanks, David !
Sacramento, Calif.

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