Negotiating the myriad hazards of the shopping centre car park


Negotiating the myriad hazards of the shopping centre car park

CAR parks. They’re the culmination of everything that is wrong with the world, a place where mobile phones, social media, dashcams, road rage, selfishness, automation, bad drivers, over-optioned soundproof cars and objects-in-this-mirror-being-closer-than-they-appear all converge in one location to test the patience and temper of anyone trying to live a normal life.

Recently, a morning out with my better half seemed like a good call to unwind on a Sunday, so we chose to grab a hot breakfast at a favourite haunt that is tacked on to the local shopping centre. There’s no smashed avo and crumbled feta served by a barista with a top-knot here; it’s just good, normal, honest everyday food.

The obligatory Bunnings run was also on the cards, so we decided to take our Mr Juicy Valiant panel van to accomplish it all in one trip. Okay, chancing your old-school ride at a car park is asking for trouble, I know, but it’s been my daily driver for yonks, so it’s a risk I accept in return for enjoying some chrome-bumper V8 goodness before we get governed off the road forever.

Not that I totally leave its fate in the lap of the gods. I try and park away from other cars and always reverse the van in deep where possible, to keep the harder-to-source-and-repair rear quarters and bumperettes away from potential carnage, while still pulling the sacrificial – as it’s model-common – CL Valiant front clip in as far as I can. And the thing is bright orange, FFS, with a jacked-up 70s-style rear that makes it higher than most Land Cruisers, so it’s fair to say I’ve got the hi-vis factor covered too.

But on this particular day, the car park was packed, so I found a spot, carried out my reverse-park method and just hoped the cars that were parked within a 360-degree radius of our spot would still be there when we returned – no movement should equal no damage.

But I was uneasy. Something felt wrong today, so I took a restaurant seat that let me watch my van in the distance. My missus is a car freak too, so she knows the deal and gave me no grief for staring past her while we talked, but eventually I relaxed, dropped the paranoia and settled into a great feed.

It wasn’t long before I noticed a lady milling around my van; she was there for ages, but playing on her phone, so I just figured she was waiting for a mate or posting on Facebook about how inconsiderate gas guzzlers like mine were to the environment.

She eventually wandered off and we finished soon after, bellies full and ready to tackle Bunnings. We hopped into the van and noticed a P-plater attempting to execute – and I use that term loosely – a reverse park into the now-vacant spot next to me. It wasn’t looking good, as Miss Oblivious approached the perpendicular park at 45 degrees with no steering input in sight. But I had nowhere to go, as there was a car blocking me in front that was waiting to get past her, so we were trapped. Phew, the reverse lights went off, and she pulled forward to have another go. But there was no head over the shoulder or effort being focussed on the rear-view mirrors – she was just giggling along with her carload of Gen-Y Kardashian wannabees – and she went for take two, following the exact same path she took first time ’round. The better half put my thoughts into words and said: “She’s actually going to hit us!” I jammed down the twin Regal horns, damn-near melting the horn relay in the process.

Thankfully Miss Oblivious stopped, and the car in front of me cracked the shits and pulled around, which allowed me to escape. I was wired now, but relieved we avoided damage, and thankful we got back to the car when we did – five minutes later it could have been a different story.

So we pressed on, jabbering on about car parks and shit drivers and how some people manage to get their licence, when I noticed a small scrap of paper flapping under the wiper. I cop the odd ‘Is this car for sale?’ note, so I didn’t quite panic just yet, but my mind swung back to the lady hanging around my van earlier that morning. Sure enough, once we stopped I discovered the note was an apology for running into my car. Only then did I stand back and see a scuff running along the lower front guard behind the wheel. It wasn’t serious, and looked likely to buff out, which was lucky, but at least she had the decency to notify me and actually leave her name and contact details so the repair could be sorted quickly.

We couldn’t believe it. One hit and one very close call all within the space of an hour. It got us thinking about the hows and whys of this problem. Smaller car spaces, poorer driver vision due to bigger window pillars, and people relying on apps and park-assist over actual driver skill are all up there, but sometimes it just comes down to people being morons, plain and simple. Here a are few examples you may have encountered. We certainly have.

THE ABSTRACT ARTIST: The car park is straight, the lines are straight, all the other cars are parked straight, so why the hell is your car parked crooked? This is usually accompanied by full lock to bust your shins and driven hard up against your driver’s door on their passenger side so you can’t get in. The real entitled lazy ones take up multiple spots. Often has a domino effect that throws the entire row out of sync. Then they leave and make someone else look like the fool. Mark my words: They will park perpendicular to the kerb, but only when the spaces require diagonal parking.

THE AUSTIN POWERS: Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth trying to get in and/or out of a car park they’ve approached at the completely wrong angle.

THE DR EVIL: As per The Austin Powers, but still with two metres of play room at each end before they even look like hitting another car – a fact obvious to everyone else but themselves.

THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT: All car park rules, common courtesy and the laws of physics are null and void when the Christmas shopping rush hits. Best to avoid at all costs and buy all your family and friends online vouchers from the safety of your own home.

THE CLING-ON: The car park is near-completely empty, with spaces aplenty, but this fool insists on parking right next to you. And well into your personal space.

THE DAVID COPPERFIELD: You spot a lone car spot and haul down the lane to nab it, only to hook in and find some jobber with a scooter or motorbike has parked it hard up against the opposite end, making that empty spot just an illusion. In the old days it was Minis too, but age has culled that problem.

THE GAMBLER: Just shut your eyes and hope for the best. Using brail and parking by feel is a valid option, isn’t it? Also known to be applied when leaving a spot: You know the deal, you’re driving through a busy shopping centre car park and they just reverse out without looking. You can actually see them not turning around or using their mirrors; they just cross their fingers that everyone will give way!

THE HOUDINI: Your car is damaged but the adjacent spot is empty with nary a culprit or note to be found.

THE HUMAN SHIELD: An oldie but a goodie. After you’ve driven around in a circle twice or maybe three times on a busy Saturday morning, you spot an empty park just a few cars ahead. Except when you get there, you find someone standing in the middle and busily waving you away to signal that the spot’s taken by a car that’s not actually there yet. Not as commonplace these days; it’s more something Grandpa used to get Grandma to do back when you were a kid.

THE MAN-BUN: The type of guy who uses a handbrake to do a hill start – in an automatic. The park itself is exquisitely neat and tidy, but he does bash the crap out of your door mirror with his man-bag as he naively saunters past.

THE MIX MASTER: All they need to do is reverse straight in, but they insist on turning lock-to-lock the entire way, venturing dangerously close to your ride.

THE PAUL MURRAY: Poor Paul Murray. With its gorgeous Candy Apple Red paint and murals, Paul’s custom HR panel van, Iron Man, acts as a magnet for wayward drivers. They’ll hit you, then claim to be car enthusiasts and go on to tell you how awesome your car is. Errrr, was.

THE PINGER: It’s time to get frightened when you see a passenger hop out and start visually signalling the driver to assist with the park, just like the folks on the airport tarmac with the ping-pong bats guiding a plane to the gate – except those people actually have communication skills. Return to your vehicle immediately and move it. Move it now.

THE SANDSHOE: Nothing needs to be said here. It’s universally not cool to steal someone else’s park, especially if they’re already indicating.

THE SHELF LIFE: Have you ever returned to your car to find some oxygen thief using your boot as a shelf to store their bags while they unlock their shitter? It happened to me once with my Valiant hardtop and I stiff-armed all their breakables onto the ground. I was further enraged when I was told to calm down because it was “only an old car”. Them’s fighting words right there.

THE SLO-MO: The person is at their car unpacking groceries, but as soon as they see you indicating for their spot, everything thereafter happens in that epic Six Million Dollar Man-style slow motion. Bags that should have taken a minute to put in the boot now take an hour, and then they sit in the car updating Facebook before they even contemplate moving for you. Hey, they’re not giving up their spot without a fight! Even though they’re planning to leave anyway. Go figure.

THE SLOPPY JALOPY: Remember the kids who couldn’t colour within the lines at primary school? Well they’ve got their licence and are now struggling to park their car between the lines too. Front or back, side to side, it’s always messy.

THE TRUCKSTER: Did that 4WD just put on a maxi-brake?!? Oh no, that was the sound of the sealed tomb of air con being opened and seven screaming kids piling out and slamming their doors into yours with reckless abandon – often accompanied with a wispy, post-damage “Be careful kids” from the parent just for appearances’ sake, but executed with zero care-factor and ignored by said children holus bolus. Words won’t fix my car, mate.

Admit it, we all hate the above offenders, particularly as car enthusiasts. Car parks are a forced medium for co-operation, but seriously, who would think that parking between two lines could be that hard? Choosing to drive and enjoy your car can be perilous, and it really comes down to pot-luck most of the time. But apart from swathing your ride in bubble wrap or attaching a full dodgem-car bumper bar, what more can you do?