It’s that time of year. Commitments triple, time shrinks, and we try to get everything accomplished with a smile. Whether you celebrate large, small or not at all is irrelevant. The kids still have holiday programs, projects and finals, all followed by two to three weeks off school. The job is pushing for end-of-year whatever. And no matter where you go, parking lots are crammed with cars driven by people who are beyond distracted.
Today, I focus on the drivers, and specifically on parking lots.
I saved my son’s life yesterday. As the man beside us got into his truck and started backing up without looking, I screamed and yanked my son to safety. He was literally a split-second away from being under the tire of a large pickup. We yelled, and the driver kept moving. The next guy he almost backed over banged on the back of his truck. He kept backing up. Eventually, he threw it in drive, giving us this look that was somewhere between perplexed and perturbed, and he sped off, running over a curb.
I’d love to say that this is atypical behavior, but it was only one of several I witnessed over the weekend. There was the driver who signaled to turn right, started turning into the parking lot, and then whipped across three lanes of traffic to turn left instead. There was the driver who was doing 20 in a 45 zone, straddling lanes, whipping her head back and forth, apparently not finding what she was looking for, and causing a road hazard in the process. There were the multitude of cars doing 30 in the mall parking lot.
This is why I do my holiday shopping online. But when I do have to go out during the holidays and brave the stores, I try to follow a few simple rules.
1) Have a plan
Even if you’re just going to browse, know where you’re going before you leave the house. Chances are, you know which stores you are going to be visiting. Plan your route, and know where you’re going. If you’re unsure which side of the road a store is on, do some research. Find out the address; odd numbers are going to be on one side of the street, and evens on the other. That will reduce your need to change lanes; you can be in the lane you need prior to approaching the general vicinity of a store in an unfamiliar area. If you realize you are about to pass the store, DO NOT whip across lanes or stop abruptly. It will take you an extra minute to turn around, but in that minute, you may be saving yourself or others from an accident.
Also, plan your route. Try to avoid back-tracking in your travels. This strategy puts you on the road for the least amount of time. Try to hit all the stores on one side of the street before crossing to the other to avoid back-and-forth travel through busy intersections. If everyone reduced their travel times and practiced economy of motion, the roads would be less congested. Even a few less vehicles can make a huge difference this time of year.
2) Be patient
You do no one, not even yourself, any favors by running red lights or blocking intersections. You put people’s lives in danger when you speed around the elderly woman who can’t help how slowly she walks when crossing the street in front of you. Regardless of how much your time is shrinking, it’s never worth the few seconds you save if you’re putting someone else at risk.
This time of year, lines will be long, and tempers will be short. Take a deep breath, close your eyes (not while driving) and tell yourself that you will get everything done. It might not get done as quickly as you’d like, but it will get done.
3) Keep your wits about you
Parking lots are scary places. People are focusing on where they are going next, rather than what is happening around them. Do not be one of those people! There is nothing – I mean it – NOTHING – more important than the pedestrians when you are in a parking lot. People appear out of nowhere. Kids pull from their parent’s hands and bolt in excitement. Strollers sometimes can’t be seen when they are directly behind you. Go slow, and keep your head up and your mind focused on what is going on around you. If you follow Rule #1, you’ll have your plan in place and you’ll know where you’re going next. Having that plan will help you keep focused on what’s important as you navigate the human-mine-field of the parking lot.
4) Keep a sense of empathy
The cashier can’t get your item to ring up properly at the sale price. The guy in front of you wants to price match everything. The child behind you is crying because his mother has dragged him from store to store for hours. Remember: This too shall pass. The cashier is fighting with a computerized system that is only as good as the overnight staff’s data entry process. The guy in front of you is stretching his dollars because he has to. The whining child is probably hungry and is most definitely bored and exhausted. We’ve all been there. And when you get back out to your car after being trapped between computers and crying, do not take it out on your gas pedal. Take a deep breath, remember that everyone is just as frustrated as you are, and then go slow and easy as you leave the store. If you’re leaving, that means you’re done, so let go of the frustration, and focus on safety.
5) Timing is key
Stores open early and close late this time of year. While going to the mall at noon on a Saturday may be extremely convenient for you, know that you risk being there at the absolute busiest time of the week. If you can work in store visits at odd times, either earlier or later, and on other days – 9 AM on a Tuesday is usually blessedly quiet, even this time of year – do it! It will help save your sanity, and it will create less of a crowd during the busy times. You will find closer parking, less congestion in the lot, and fewer short-tempered, frustrated shoppers. Your whole experience will be much more pleasurable, and it will save you the ultimate frustrations that are inherent with holiday shopping.
When you are out this holiday season, please remember that the safety and well-being of your neighbor is infinitely more important than the next-thing-to-go-get. Planning ahead and exercising caution and care helps get us all to and from the stores safely. I never want to have to rip my son out of harm’s way again because: negligence. I’m not saying it won’t happen; I have no such delusion. But the more people who travel with purpose and care, the less worrisome our parking lots will be.