The Battle for an IKEA Parking Spot
Beware your expectations of strangers. No matter how easy it gets to expect less of humanity, it pays to leave room for pleasant surprises.
I was 25, two months alone after two years conjoined. Having unpacked my last box from the summer move, my lonely corner of an east Gainesville duplex began to feel like home.
I kept my kitchen tidy, limited myself to one laundry pile and verged on buying my first bottle of fabric softener. But I wanted more; bookshelves that didn’t crumble at the corners, silverware neatly divided instead of thrown willy-nilly into drawers, a desk that didn’t have my high-school sweetheart’s name carved into it. This bachelor crisis required drastic measures.
I’d never been to IKEA, but tales of the one-way adventure showroom lured me down to Orlando one Saturday afternoon. Tailgaters were out in swarms. I lost count of the aggressive cut-offs and the irrational horn honks. It infuriated me, but I shook my head clear as I pulled into the IKEA parking lot and dreamed of hosting swanky parties with my new swanky furniture.
In a just world, the center point of an IKEA carpark would be equipped with water stations for the bedraggled masses crawling in from the outer boundaries. Only a fool would hope to find a space near the entrance. I was that fool.
I mentally projected success as I drove down aisle after aisle, but to no avail. On my fourth try, my prayers were answered — backup lights! I flipped down my turn signal as the Dodge Caravan reversed, but I celebrated too soon.
In the distance, a green Honda hatchback raced toward us. Surely she saw my signal — humanity cannot have sunk so low to ignore such obvious claim. Trapped on my side of the aisle, blocked by the Caravan, I was forced to watch the hatchback steal my spot.
I’m no screamer. I rely on firm, cool stare-downs to convey disappointment, but the thief avoided eye contact. She just hopped out of her little booger car and skipped away as carelessly as a child at recess. I resisted the urge to berate her. Gentlemen don’t engage in scurrilous behavior of that sort.
The next two aisles offered no hope. Fuming, I turned down another and found an impossible second miracle — backup lights! A minivan pulling out of a prime space right near the entrance! I pumped my fist in the air. The gods were good, my patience had been rewarded!
Or were the gods toying with me?
My heart fell. The gods were cruel. The minivan pulled away only to reveal a Volkswagen in wait. The scoundrel must’ve arrived unseen from the opposite end when I did. Now it was a showdown between his turn signal and mine for the best spot in the lot to which we both held equal claim.
We threw up our hands in exasperation, likely for similar reasons. Shaking his head, he pointed as if to say, “Well? What now?”
I didn’t know. In a split second, the entire day’s frustration surfaced and I wanted to scream. But I didn’t. It occurred to me none of this was his fault. He hadn’t cut me off or snatched my parking space. Somehow I knew he was realizing the same thing.
We weren’t to blame for the other’s misfortune. I didn’t care anymore if I got this space or a different one, only that we each got a fair chance.
The solution hit me. I raised my left palm, flat and open, then pounded it thrice with my right fist — the universal symbol for a rock-paper-scissors challenge. The VW man looked incredulous at first, but then a sly smile replaced consternation. He raised his palm and fist and nodded enthusiastically.
Only one round was necessary. One-two-three-shoot! I played scissors, he played paper. I won, we both laughed. With a civilized wave, he gestured me to the spot as if holding open a door for royalty.
My frustration with mankind was disregarded by my pleasant surprise in a stranger. I waited for him at the front entrance just to shake his hand. He did me one better and wrapped me up in a big bear hug. He told me he really needed a moment like this one, he’d just been through a rough time and was hoping things would turn around.
So was I, I told him.