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Learn How to Drive in Parking Lots, Dumbasses

A plea for the end of inattentiveness, confusion, and aggression.

Mac MorrisonWriterRyan LugoIllustrations

Driving enthusiasts like to talk about how most drivers are entirely clueless, wouldn't know an apex from their a-hole, and know even less about car control and how to recover from a slide ("skid" in most driver education courses), or how to properly use antilock brakes in an emergency situation. Forget all of that for a moment; it's the domain of the top 1-percent or so, be it race drivers, track-day junkies, or the relative handful of people who at least appreciate the fact that, when they drive, they are in charge of a two-ton-or-more instrument of potential death. The latter are the type of people who might at least bother to take the time to venture out into an empty, snow-covered parking lot to teach themselves a few basic things about their car, driving, and the laws of physics.

From what I've witnessed increasingly during the past five years in Los Angeles, a deserted, icy midwestern parking lot is the safest kind when you're talking about having to drive in parking lots. When I moved here from southeastern Michigan a few years ago, I was immediately struck, almost literally, by the absolute cluelessness and outright stupidity on display every time I dared stop for groceries on my way home from work. After the fifth time I came within inches of being drilled in my car's right-rear bumper area by some jackhole travelling at 30 mph as I backed out of my parking space at idle rolling speed (for this very reason), I lost count of how many similar instances transpired.

Apparently, 90-something percent of L.A. drivers don't understand that when they drive in parking lots and a car 50 or so feet ahead begins to reverse out of a space, the person ahead has limited visibility. Yes, even with backup cameras, which can themselves distract drivers and cause them to fixate only on what the screen displays. This is why most people roll extremely slowly out of parking spaces. For some reason, though, put those same people behind the wheel of the car that is the backer-upper, and they forget what it's like to be the other guy. It's pathetic. This isn't to say the reversers aren't often culpable, too; it's just as infuriating--and dangerous--when you have the right of way and someone throws their car into "R" and just decides, as Jerry Seinfeld once riffed, "I'm comin' back."

This parking lot red mist also manifests often less in the vein of dangerous and more in the vein of "Keystone Cops"-esque (or "Key & Peele") comically idiotic.

The hilarity goes down in real-time almost daily here at Automobile, where our office inside the MotorTrend Group compound sits in the middle of two heavily trafficked parking lots swarmed by customers for things like a health club, a Starbucks, a bagel shop, and other businesses that attract the ignorant when it comes to how to drive in parking lots.

One of our favorite games to observe is the lottery known as Who's Space is This, Anyway? It usually plays out like this: As one driver isn't even finished backing out of a space, two drivers approaching from opposite directions set their sights on the about-to-be-vacant goldmine of a free slot. Half the time, they get so close to the car that's attempting to leave, their target-fixated aggression to claim the berth results in them pinching off the trying-to-leave's room for maneuvering.

This results in that car being unable to actually depart, and in the two aggressors being unable to claim the spot. It always ends the same: A three-car logjam of stoppage that lasts a minimum of 30 seconds as three grown-ass people look back and forth at each other, their hands raised as they throw expletives in confused chaos. Sometimes the first car has enough room to leave as normal, whereupon the other two are left to nose in simultaneously—before the same standoff unfolds. I can only assume these are the same people who don't understand another basic law of common convention and decency: When an elevator door opens, you're supposed to wait to see if any of the six or however-many people already on the elevator need to exit it before you just push your way onboard.

Then we have the daily solo acts, which are more likely to, at worst, just damage your car—and not you—if you're unlucky enough to park in a space next to one that these geniuses attempt to claim.

Case in point: Just the other week, I went shopping at a CVS. As I approached my car upon leaving the store, I stopped—admittedly for purposes of this column—and watched gleefully as a woman in a Ford Explorer decided, despite this particular parking lot being half-full at most, it made sense to try and wedge her SUV into the space between the Lexus LS500 I had parked, and another car.

She pulled in, realized she was too close to the car on her right, and backed out to try again. Next, she pulled into the slot, realized she was crooked, backed out and tried again. At this point, I was looking for a lawn chair, a Jack and Coke, and a cigar—and I don't drink or smoke either of those. The third attempt saw her pull in straight, attempt to exit her Explorer … and realize she couldn't open her door without bashing into the passenger side of the LS500. And still, comically and wholly irrationally, she tried to squeeze herself out of the nine-inch door opening she had to work with. Finally defeated, she abandoned the effort—and within 20 seconds found a wide-open parking space 15 feet away, not another car within striking distance.

A day later, I sat in my chair at Automobile HQ and relayed the story to my colleague, Nelson Ireson, who also has zero patience for this sort of inept elementary-driving lunacy. As if on cue, we looked out of the floor-to-ceiling plate-glass window directly in front of our desks. It overlooks the health club parking lot next door; several parking spaces come right up to this window, separated from our building's exterior wall by an 8-inch curb and about four feet of dirt and plants. That's it.

No doubt divinely summoned to cap the point, a woman climbed into her car, which was parked facing our desks, mere feet away. She selected "Reverse" and hit the gas. Except she wasn't in Reverse. She was in Drive. We lost our minds as her Toyota Camry lurched forward, bounced head-on off of the curb, and caused a look of shock and confusion on her face. As she actually found Reverse and went on her way, we were still laughing hysterically … for about five more seconds.

We looked at each other as a somber realization hit us simultaneously: we're smack in the line of fire every day without even having to be in a parking lot, let alone behind the wheel of a car.

Enough is enough, people. This shit really isn't funny.