Parking Lot Philosophy: The Waiting Game

Ashley Chang

Mornings can be hectic.

Anarchy waits as you enter a concrete jungle; a packed parking lot full of restless students in search of a parking space. You spot gleaming reverse lights ahead. You gun forward, turning on your blinker, signaling to others that they must search elsewhere. As you wait, your patience begins to run dry and if it seems they are taking their sweet time, they are.
“Most people think they leave faster, but in reality, they take more time to leave when another car waits near their space,” said Professor Barry Ruback of Penn State University.

Ruback and Daniel Juieng, a professor at Georgia State University, observed 200 departing cars in a mall parking lot and discovered that people took longer to leave when someone was waiting to occupy ‘their’ spot.

“Territorial Defense in Parking Lots: Retaliation Against Waiting Drivers,” an article written by Ruback and Juieng, also notes that if a car becomes intrusive and honks its horn, people take even longer and become more territorial.

“Like our ancestors, we humans still defend territories, but we do so even when they are temporary public areas,” said Ruback. “This reaction is counterproductive because it takes more time and the driver’s entire goal was to leave the space anyway.”

Many students are part of the status quo and are frequent offenders. Some attempt to disguise the behavior by rummaging through their backpacks, while others talk on cell phones as their peers anxiously wait.

“People here always do that. It’s annoying. I’m already late as it is,” said Kevin Kwon, 24, as he walked toward campus. “People take forever just to get to their car, just because they know everyone wants their spot.”

Most students can relate to Kwon. Attempting to obtain a parking space during busy periods can be more stressful than sitting in traffic during rush hour.
During such times, cars can be seen lined up in uniform, anxiously waiting near parking lot entrance ways with hopes
of providing a tram-like
service to those willing to give up their winnings.

It is no wonder students become territorial. The stress, anger, and annoyance of the search can take its toll, and finally achieving their long awaited victory can transform a mere parking spot into a prized possession.

When asked if he was ever guilty of the primitive behavior, Kwon smirked and proudly replied, “I waited.”

For Kwon, self-awareness is a start. Those involved in Ruback and Juieng’s experiment felt they had been more chivalrous than they actually were, illustrating the “inconsistency between what people think they do and their actual behavior,” said Ruback.

Not all students are protective of communal space. Art major, Eric Lee, 19, recalls being late for a final a few semesters ago and inevitably, the parking lots were full and lines already formed. “I was desperate,” said Lee, “so I offered this woman five bucks for her parking spot. She didn’t take the money, but she gave it to me anyway.”

But do not be quick to assume women are less likely to take their time. Both men and women were found equally guilty of territorial behavior. Compared to women, however, men departed much faster when a high-status was car waiting for the parking space.

Having an expensive car won’t necessarily guarantee quicker service. Stephanie Cristales, 22, hesitantly admitted to intentionally taking longer at times when a high-status car was waiting, explaining it was some form of “balance.”

Whether it be someone waiting in a single stall bathroom or in line at your local coffee shop, the conscious act of being courteous to others can create a better kind of balance; a balance that can be seen when you find yourself in the calm of a parking lot, having escaped the chaos of traffic, waiting for a car to depart.