Out In The Parking Lot: Musings From The Edge

Patiently waiting in my car in Parking Lot B a few weeks ago, I observed a little punk knock a Styrofoam box out of his vehicle and soccer-kick it under the car next to him.  “Jerk,” I thought angrily.  I briefly pondered writing an anonymous note stating he had been observed and his tag number had been turned in so he would not get his grades until he begged on his grubby little hands and knees and promised never to be so grossly inconsiderate again and then it hit me.  In a cruel twist of fate, I was becoming my great aunt, the “parking lot police.”
Back when microwaves were the breathtaking new technology and calculators that could only add and subtract cost two hundred bucks, my great aunt Mary Sue came to live with us.  I was eleven and she was three or four hundred years old and had been a widow since before the Civil War.  Ladies didn’t learn to drive back in her day, so once a week, my poor mom dutifully took us to the grocery store.  It was always “us” because the greatest thrill of Aunt Mary Sue’s week was sitting in the car in the Kroger parking lot “watching the people” while my mom shopped for her.  I had to go along to make sure nothing happened to Aunt Mary Sue.  I never understood who would want to mess with the crankiest three hundred pound old lady in town but I dutifully sat in the back of the car in the sweltering heat, praying that no one from school would wander by and see me.  In retrospect, I realize that there was practically no chance that any other fifth grader would have been found strolling through the grocery store parking lot on a sunny Saturday morning looking in random cars.
As I sweated on the vinyl back seat (we couldn’t open a window more than a crack because Aunt Mary Sue was always cold), she would assault me with an endless commentary on all the nail biting drama that was always occurring in front of the Blacksburg Kroger in the summer of 1973.  “Did you see that?” she would hiss.  “That guy in that truck threw a cigarette stub (“butt” was too improper) right out his window!  It rolled under that yellow Pinto there.  It could cause a fire to start.  Someone should get his tag number!”  She would continue her soliloquy about reckless drivers pulling through parking places to get to the next row of spaces, littering college students dropping their receipts as they came out the door and careless shoppers leaving their carts parked by the light poles instead of walking the ten steps to put them in their corral.  Oblivious to my suffering in the back seat, she railed against bad drivers (although she had never driven a mile in her life), horrible, loud music blaring from convertible Mustangs filled with Tech students heading to the river and half-dressed “hussies” in their mini-skirts and tube tops.  No one escaped her wrath and she had an opinion about everyone and everything.
Meanwhile, my long-suffering mom was inside the store clutching Aunt Mary Sue’s list written in pencil in her shaky handwriting.  For years, I was certain that deep in the bowels of Kroger was the “Stinky Old Lady Food” aisle, where my mom just immediately headed for to get everything on the list.  I imagined endless jars of pickled pig’s feet, sauerkraut in cans, piles of pinto beans and gallons of buttermilk.  Our house always smelled like the back corner of a football locker room and I don’t remember having very many friends sleep over.  I always went to their house.  There was always an odd smell about Aunt Mary Sue that I could never identify.  Years later, I discovered that one of the things on the list each week was a can of snuff that my mom picked up last and hid deep in the grocery bags so I couldn’t see it.
My mom took Aunt Mary Sue to Kroger every Saturday for seven more years.  My presence was no longer needed after mom realized no one was going to bother the harmless, if grumpy old lady.  I heard from friends who saw her in the car that she still kept up a running commentary on all she saw happening around her.  Obviously she did not need an audience to enthrall.  I am just grateful there were no cell phones back then for Aunt Mary Sue to keep the police informed.
As I reflected back on those long ago days, I pondered on what I was doing there in that parking lot at New River.  I was actually passing time watching what people were doing as they came and left the school.  It was unsettling to realize how fascinating it was to observe how they drove around to find the perfect spot, how some adjusted their clothes behind the screen of the open car door and to note how many looked back to make sure they had parked ok before heading up the hill to class.  I concluded that as long as I keep my observations to myself, parking lot watching is harmless amusement for those of us who just don’t “get” that on-line gaming obsession.  However, when I start ranting out loud to an empty car and seriously consider keeping a notepad and pencil on the dash, I will turn in my parking lot police permit and head to Wal-Mart to kill that extra time.  Just remember that until then, think before you dump your dinner remnants on the pavement or unbuckle your pants to tuck in your shirt behind the screen of your door.  I may be sitting in the car behind you.

About Pam Linkous

Editor of my high school newspaper back when papers were carved into stone tablets and delivered by oxen, I now spend my days unraveling the mysteries of Blackboard (like, you mean my instructor has my paper NOW...I just accidently pressed enter....oh noooooo) and trying to understand how textbooks today cost more than tuition did when I went to college the first time. Despite needing several more hours per day to get everything done (who do I e-mail, Facebook, blog about that?), I still love to write and am willing to take on assignments that do not require staying up past my bedtime.
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