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A Little Personal Space Would Make the Season Complete

Guaranteed, sometime in the next six weeks, it will happen just like this:

Agog with holiday spirit, I’ll hop in the rig and scoot on over to the mall for some shopping. As always, I’ll leave home with a song in my heart and a sack of mixed nuts at my side.

I’ll wheel into the parking lot, keeping an eye peeled for a parking spot.

Up one row. Nothing open.

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Down the next row. Not my lucky day.

Up the next row. Hmm.

To shake up the routine, I skip the next two rows and try the third one. Nothing. The cars sit in their stalls, smugly silent and serving no real purpose other than taking up space. Space that I need for my car.

What time did these people get here, I wonder. And how come they’re taking so much time inside?

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I begin a circling pattern, like jumbo jets in a rainstorm over O’Hare. I wonder why we don’t have a Parking Lot Controller to assist me. “ Mr. Parsons, Row F-7, Space 14 is now available. Please approach at 2 m.p.h. at zero-one-niner.

Instead, left to my own devices, I fan out in ever larger circles away from the mall. Soon, I’ll be out of radio contact altogether.

Then, the breakthrough. One row over, a man carrying two packages is walking purposefully. Like a rattler, I assume position to strike. My eyes narrow, and I slither my car to the end of my row and slowly make the turn down his row. In a flash, I’m behind the rabbit, but so quietly he doesn’t hear.

Abruptly, he stops and looks around. I hit the brakes to keep from running over him. His eyes widen and he has that quizzical look that cabbies employ when you first give them your address.

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But this man truly is lost. He is in the wrong row. He walks all the way down the end of the row, with me inching up behind him. He begins walking up the next row, with me in slow-motion pursuit. What an imbecile, I think to myself. He doesn’t even remember in which direction he parked.

Midway up the row, he cuts between cars and, just like that, he’s in the next row. The fool! He thinks he can lose me.

He picks up his pace. What’s that, a glint of recognition? His stride lengthens, as his brain informs his feet the car has been spotted. He tries to be nonchalant, although he knows that I know he lost his car and that I’m tracking him like enemy aircraft.

I zip over to his row and arrive while he’s still fumbling for the keys. He drives a Lexus with an “I Hate Clinton” bumper sticker.

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I sit in my car, waiting, and when he looks up at me, I twiddle my thumbs over the steering wheel and pretend to look at a watch. His head disappears into the back seat. He loads one package into the car, then the other. He’s arranging them on the seat, just so, as if he purchased a two-piece crystal chandelier. I begin wondering if his head will ever see the sun again.

Eventually, it does, and he looks at me again. Still there, now staring right through him.

He climbs in behind the wheel as if stuck to flypaper, this once peppy shopper now reduced to George Burns. He positions himself behind the wheel--as if for the first time and he must acquaint himself with the intricate control panel laid out before him.

He picks up some sunglasses from the passenger seat and puts them on his head, a process that, from start to finish, I clock at 2 minutes, 25 seconds. He looks at himself in the rearview mirror, no doubt assuring himself that the glasses have gone over both ears and are covering both eyes.

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He stretches toward the glove compartment. I’ve opened mine six times in four years, so I’m puzzled as to what secrets lie in his. Directions home, perhaps? He shuffles with some papers, then closes the glove box and looks again in the mirror. For good measure, he takes a look in the mirror outside the driver’s door, too.

Still, no sound of ignition. I wonder if he remembers how to start the car. I tell myself that if he looks at me again, I will make a motion with my thumb and forefinger, simulating the turning of a key. Tee-hee, that’ll get him.

Then, suddenly, vrroom! A burst of exhaust, a rush of Lexus power. Surely he is about to make the excruciating move into reverse and be on his way.

Not so fast. He leans over and begins fiddling with the radio. I learned to operate simultaneously a moving vehicle and the radio years ago, but he apparently is not onto that yet. To find the perfect sound for his impending trip, he takes 3 minutes, 45 seconds.

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He takes a leisurely look over his shoulder at me, and I wave. He grimaces and returns to a straight-ahead position.

I know full well what is happening.

Like me, he spent much too long and put up with much too much to find this parking spot during the holiday season. He’s not about to give it up casually. And certainly not to a stranger.

So, he sits. He fidgets. He stalls.

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What he doesn’t know is that he’s met his match. I can wait. I spotted that parking spot, and I’m going to get it, no matter how long it takes. I have “The House of the Seven Gables” on audio cassette and I’m only up to Chapter 6.

So, go ahead, buddy. Take all the time you need. I’ll be right here.

Dana Parsons’ columns appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by writing to him at the Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or calling (714) 966-7821.


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