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Car sitting 101
August 8, 2012 10:58 AM   Subscribe

Why are there so many people sitting in their cars in the grocery store parking lot?

So the closest grocery store to me is a Safeway. It is not in what I would call a ritzy part of town, but it isn't unsafe either. It's here, for any Tacoma, WA residents if you're curious. I've been going there for over 10 years and have noticed almost every visit, somewhere between 20-50% of the cars parked have people sitting in them, usually in the passenger's seat.

Now, I've applied deductive reasoning and can account for some of the activity:
- the driver is just running in to grab a few items, and the passenger doesn't want to go in.
- the passenger is accompanied by children and doesn't want the hassel of handling kids and shopping (a special type of hell if there ever was one).
- waiting for their dealer (it happens, I don't judge).
- protecting their 1986 Olds from thieves.

I've picked out some people sitting in cars alone for over 30 mins—as in, they are still sitting there after I have finished shopping and returned to my car—so I can't say they fit into the above scenarios. What is the deal? Can anyone provide a plausible explanation for why so many are car sitting for so long?
posted by R_Kamidees to Human Relations (55 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
the driver is just running in to grab a few items, and the passenger doesn't want to go in.

This was always the reason when I was a kid. And with my father, a few items could easily turn into a long time because he was always talking to his buddy, the deli counter guy or his buddy, the meat guy or his buddy, the paper towel stocker, or or or.
posted by sweetkid at 11:00 AM on August 8, 2012 [8 favorites]


I know that Husbunny would rather lose an appendage than go into a grocery store. He'd prefer to sit in the car and play on his phone. (Before smartphones it was read a book.)

Some folks are tired, or maybe just got off work and don't want to walk around the store.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:01 AM on August 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


People who make lots of sales visits by car often park in supermarket and mall parking lots to catch up on paperwork, phone in to the office, etc.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:02 AM on August 8, 2012 [13 favorites]


My sister and brother-in-law don't grocery shop together. It leads to too many fights. So if they are out together and need to get groceries, one of the sits in the car.
posted by donajo at 11:02 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


the passenger is accompanied by children and doesn't want the hassel of handling kids and shopping

This is often the case for me on weekend. We might be driving home from church or some other place and need to pick up just a few items from the store. It's generally quicker for me or my wife to be in and out in a few minutes than haul the whole family into the store just to purchase a few items.
posted by Tanizaki at 11:03 AM on August 8, 2012


Your first three reasons all sound plausible, and reality is probably that there are some of each. Plus: driveway moments, people just eating the lunch they bought inside, people poaching wifi, people stuck on a long cell phone conversation they would prefer not to take inside. And the other reasons already mentioned in answers. Etc. You could do a survey in the interest of science, and find out for sure.
posted by beagle at 11:04 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, some people with binge eating disorder buy food at supermarkets and sit in their cars to eat it as part of their ritual.

For that matter, there were many occasions when my father was in rehab when I would be with him until visiting hours were over, then drive to a nearby supermarket, buy food, and eat it in my car because I was too tired and/or stressed to deal with eating in a restaurant.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:05 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


My teenagers would rather sit in a hot car than go grocery shopping with me. They say I am too random. Maybe they're right.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:05 AM on August 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm the one in the passenger seat, after Mr. Terrier has gone in the store for a few things. I'm on my feet all day, and I don't want to "shop", simply veg out in the car, listening to the radio.
posted by BostonTerrier at 11:07 AM on August 8, 2012


If there is ever a time when I have to go grocery shopping with my mom, this is me. I have never seen anyone go through a store more inefficiently than her. She goes in for a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk, and comes out an HOUR or more later with an entire cart full of stuff and a story about the cashier's niece's cat. As soon as I was old enough to figure out how the automatic door locks worked, I waited in the car.

I also tend to sit in parking lots and catch up on things in between running errands. Send emails, sort through my bag, find the trash in the car, tie my shoes, eat a snack, entertain my dog if he's with me, whatever.

It's also a convenient meeting place if you're making plans with a friend and it's in a central location. (Ex: Let's go to restaurant! I don't know where restaurant is. OK, meet me in the Safeway parking lot and you can follow me there.)
posted by phunniemee at 11:09 AM on August 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


People who make lots of sales visits by car often park in supermarket and mall parking lots to catch up on paperwork, phone in to the office, etc.

I left out why they're in the passenger's seat--because in the driver's seat they don't have room for a lap desk or laptop.

A colleague of mine when I worked in university administration had this totally spiffy car lap desk thingie he'd fitted out for his college fair season rounds.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:09 AM on August 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sometimes I buy lunch in the supermarket then eat it in my car so I can listen to Howard Stern while I eat.
posted by amro at 11:10 AM on August 8, 2012


Sometimes I pull into the parking lot, thinking about what I'm going to make for the next few days. If a recipe comes to mind, I'll look it up on my iPhone, and start a list with the necessary ingredients. This can take quite a few minutes if I'm doing 3-4 recipes at once. Sure, I could do this at home ahead of time, but that habit hasn't stuck yet. It's better than aimlessly wandering the aisles grabbing random bell peppers and yogurt.

Sometimes I've been on the phone with someone, and haven't hung up yet. I don't want to go into the grocery store where I'll be super distracted for the conversation, nor do I wish to be that Annoying Shopper on the Phone who randomly bumps into stuff and can't maneuver with a cart in busy aisles. So I'll finish the conversation in the car, before heading into the store. Sometimes I have to make a list after the conversation too!

And yeah, frequently one of us will stay in the car while the other one runs in.
posted by barnone at 11:10 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Employees taking their breaks?
posted by jamjam at 11:21 AM on August 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sometimes I just sit there in the blissful quiet because I'm at the grocery store BY MYSELF and my kids are home with my husband and I take ten minutes to RELAX before I go shop.

Sometimes I'm listening to the end of something awesome on NPR.

Lots of times I am last-minute updating my list, or sending a couple of text messages ("Did you want cherries or raspberries?" "Would you like me to bring wine to the party?")
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:23 AM on August 8, 2012 [6 favorites]


I can attest I've sat in many a grocery parking lots waiting for a dealer.
Its an easy place to just sit around and wait without drawing suspicion and easy in and out.

/thankfully those days are over with medical cannabis
posted by handbanana at 11:26 AM on August 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Misterben loves grocery shopping. I don't. I sit in the car and hopefully it means he will get through it in a more timely fashion.
posted by matildaben at 11:29 AM on August 8, 2012


Frankly I find grocery shopping super stressful and sometimes after I've just done a big run I need to chill out in the quiet of my car for a few minutes before I'm ready to move on to the next thing. If a service ever comes to my area where I can just have scheduled deliveries of groceries show up at my door (without requiring me to continue making grocery runs because they don't have everything I want, and without costing massively more than doing grocery shopping the normal way) then I will be all over that. Grocery stores suck nuts.
posted by Scientist at 11:31 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is the car full of stuff? They might be living in their car, as part of the unseen homeless population.
posted by moammargaret at 11:35 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm an in-home therapist/counselor, and I drive up to 60 miles to appointments. If I'm early, or if I have two appointments in the same geographic area, so it doesn't make sense to drive home, I often kill time in a parking lot of one kind or another. I tend to head to libraries and parks, but I've definitely spent my share of time in grocery store lots too.
posted by epj at 11:39 AM on August 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


Other possibilities: making a last-minute grocery list, or eating their just-procured lunch in privacy before rushing back to work.
posted by ourobouros at 11:40 AM on August 8, 2012


Well when I was in college, after class I'd go to the grocery store to grab a drink and then roll joints in my car. I couldn't roll them at home because I lived with my parents and I had the added bonus of blending in with a parking lot full of cars. Safeway-brand matchbooks make great crutches.
posted by bumpjump at 11:40 AM on August 8, 2012


If you see me sitting in a car in front of a store for an extended period, it's usually because I'm picking up one of my brothers who works there from his job, and he's either late getting off his shift, or I arrived early.
posted by Vorteks at 11:48 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


My housemate and I go grocery shopping together, and if my toddler decides to take his nap while we're doing that, she and I will alternate sitting in the car while the other goes in and buys food.
posted by linettasky at 11:54 AM on August 8, 2012


I often sit in my car for a little extra time in grocery store parking lots because:

-I'm tired

or

-I'm dreading going into the fluorescent hell of Ralphs.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 12:03 PM on August 8, 2012


Reasons I have waited in the parking lot of grocery stores:

1. I was with someone who needed to go in and I didn't want to or couldn't, no matter how long they were going to be shopping.
3. Waiting in my co-worker's car as I waited for her shift to end, even though mine had been over for an hour.
4. Meal planning/budgeting/one last funding check.
5. Irresistible programming on radio.
6. Random phone call.
7. Checking email.
8. Deciding to take a few moments for myself before/after shopping before heading home nd being in demand again.
9. Having a meal in peace.
10. Meeting up with someone unfamiliar with my city.
posted by batmonkey at 12:04 PM on August 8, 2012


Just this week I left work to pick up a few groceries on the way home. I got my groceries and then sat in the car in the parking lot for a few minutes because I knew as soon as I got home it would be feedthedog, cookdinner,emptydishwasher,cleanup,putlaundryaway...I just wanted a few moments to myself.
posted by vitabellosi at 12:07 PM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I used to go to the grocery store parking lot and eat lunch on my lunchbreak. It got me physically away from work, I could park under a tree on a hot day, I could get something more nutritious in the grocery's produce or organic section than the fast food joints, and there were no convenient parks in the sprawly suburb I worked in. It wasn't bad; I'd eat lunch and listen to NPR and then go back to work.
posted by peacrow at 12:09 PM on August 8, 2012


When I lived with my alcoholic boyfriend, I would get a snack (usually sushi) and mineral water at the grocery, sit in the car and eat it and listen to NPR. It was heaven.
posted by waving at 12:10 PM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have recently become a champion at breastfeeding in a parked car. If you ever see an adult "alone" in the back seat, they're probably tending a baby in one way or another.
posted by kestrel251 at 12:26 PM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


As a single guy and an efficient shopper, there are a lot of reasons that did not occur to me. But I love reading these. Keep 'em coming!
posted by R_Kamidees at 12:29 PM on August 8, 2012


I'm an extrovert that occasionally needs to eat lunch in the car by myself and listen to my podcasts. This is a reason you might see me out there, eating a sandwich, and enjoying some me time.
posted by SNWidget at 12:31 PM on August 8, 2012


My partner hates crowded places, so she waits in the truck while I shop. Or she goes in with me and drives me crazy until I (affectionately, usually) tell her to go sit in the truck.
posted by kamikazegopher at 12:33 PM on August 8, 2012


A reason I haven't seen yet, but probably only accounts for .001% of sitters- the shear agony that is the high frequency varmint electronic thingies. They set up these things in each of the four corners of the store, and walking into the middle of them is beyond belief. I can't even get through the door of most places, and there's no way in hell I'd take a (service) dog in there.
posted by whowearsthepants at 12:35 PM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nine times out of ten if I'm sitting in the carpark of a supermarket I am waiting for something interesting on NPR to finish.
posted by wwax at 12:36 PM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


You can't smoke in the store.
posted by maurice at 12:39 PM on August 8, 2012


I may be getting my shit together, i.e. okay I did the grocery shopping, now I need to hit the pharmacy and this store and that store, what's the best route to take to do all that and what all did I need at all those places?

We may be swinging in on the way somewhere else and I'm still sore from playing hoops that morning and sitting in a comfy seat with the AC on sounds REALLY good compared to hobbling around the grocery store.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:41 PM on August 8, 2012


The announcers at the all-classical radio station frequently hear from people who sit in their cars until the symphony finishes.
posted by Cranberry at 12:44 PM on August 8, 2012


Also, some people with binge eating disorder buy food at supermarkets and sit in their cars to eat it as part of their ritual.

Also note that regular people sometimes eat something in the car after shopping.
posted by DarkForest at 12:46 PM on August 8, 2012


This may not be typical, but I've done a lot of phone interviews for jobs in supermarket parking lots. Don't want to do it in my office, lest someone overhear or interrupt, and I certainly can't do it at home with three little kids around. So it's parking lot interviews for me. Heck, sometimes I go somewhere and park for any phone call that's going to be extended. It's the best way I have to find some quiet and not be disturbed.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 12:53 PM on August 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


When I'm sitting in the car in a parking lot, it's usually because my partner and I were out with our dog when we decided to pick up something from the store, and one of us needs to stay in the car with the air on for the dog. If this happens when we're coming back from, say, the dog park or a nice long walk, our dog will sometimes ooze down into the wheel well or sprawl across the back seat such that it looks like I'm just sitting there alone for no particular reason.
posted by DingoMutt at 1:25 PM on August 8, 2012


For that matter, there were many occasions when my father was in rehab when I would be with him until visiting hours were over, then drive to a nearby supermarket, buy food, and eat it in my car because I was too tired and/or stressed to deal with eating in a restaurant.

Yeah...there was one time when my husband was sick, it was after hours, and I was trying to get his doctor and pharmacists on the same page before the pharmacies closed for the night, and I spent a lot of time in the car in the grocery-store parking lot on the phone, trying to get the doctor on call through the exchange, then trying to get prescriptions phoned in, then, when there was some confusion, calling each pharmacy in turn to see whether specific prescriptions had been called in to either of them, then calling back the (now another) doctor on call when the first prescription turned out not to have been called in and the other turned out to be for something our insurance wouldn't cover... I think we made at least 30 phone calls back and forth that day, a number of which were me on the phone in the car in one or the other of the stores' parking lots.

And yeah, I don't do it so much right now, because I feel like I'm destroying the environment by sitting in a car with the AC on when it's hot, but sometimes just to get out of the office for a while during a stressful day, I used to get food from the grocery store and sit in the car for a while, listening to music and just being by myself.
posted by limeonaire at 1:29 PM on August 8, 2012


Employees hotboxing on lunch breaks.
posted by roger ackroyd at 1:37 PM on August 8, 2012


I'm listening to the rest of the story on NPR before I go into the store.
posted by blurker at 2:00 PM on August 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Reasons why I or my spouse would be sitting in our car alone in the supermarket parking lot, in order of frequency:

1. Waiting while the other person runs inside;

2. Calling/texting the other to see what they want from the store;

3. Looking up the grocery list I emailed to myself on my phone;

4. Looking up (again, on phone) ingredients for a recipe I'm planning to shop for.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 2:51 PM on August 8, 2012


I am calling my wife to make sure that she has truly, really, told me *everything* she wanted me to pick up from said grocery store on my way home from work, so as to avoid the inevitable phone call (while I am in the checkout line) to tell me that she wants "just one more thing".
posted by brownrd at 5:12 PM on August 8, 2012


Richard, how about "Organize my coupons?"
I've also seen parents waiting out a tantrum and years ago at the store in a bad area of town, they had a shortage of decent carts and some gross people and I used to wait for someone to finish using a cart & snag it outside instead of trying to sort through the wobbly wheels and mysterious smears on the handles of the carts left inside (this was way before hand sanitizer freely roamed the country)
posted by jaimystery at 7:29 PM on August 8, 2012


When I was pregnant I was grossed out by food and I pretty much refused to enter a grocery store.
posted by medusa at 7:37 PM on August 8, 2012


I am an ER doctor and sometimes I get so tired after night shifts that I actually cannot do even a short drive home. I sleep in parking lots not infrequently, although I try to do it in a spot that's less busy (and ideally, where there's shade - it heats up FAST in a parked car). I slept in a Dunkin Donuts parking lot after my last shift. I am in the driver's seat, though. Ideally I like to sleep in empty parking lots, but one time a police officer came and started banging on my window and telling me I had to move along when I did that, so unfortunately, I am now afraid to sleep in empty parking lots.

I also have a habit of sitting in the car listening to an audiobook for quite a long time get to the end of a chapter (or even multiple chapters if the author is cruel and ends each chapter with a cliffhanger). I'm terrible at just turning it off mid-story.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:09 PM on August 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Maybe the person shopping for groceries doesn't have transportation, and the car-sitter is the kind person who drove them to the store.
posted by exphysicist345 at 11:02 PM on August 8, 2012


If my toddler falls asleep in his (rear-facing, so you can't really see him from outside) carseat on the way to the store, and I have time to let him sleep a little longer, I do. I clean out my purse, or check email, or go over my shopping list again.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 11:09 PM on August 8, 2012


Sometimes I'm borrowing Safeway's wifi.

What?
posted by wintersweet at 12:05 AM on August 9, 2012


TL;DR: death of public space/sphere.
posted by MidSouthern Mouth at 1:20 AM on August 9, 2012


Drunk drivers sleeping it off cannot sit in the driver's seat - they have to sit in the passenger seat or they can be busted even while sleeping. May be part of it.
posted by corb at 5:44 AM on August 9, 2012


I rarely see people sitting in their car like this, but it gets over 100 here in the summer. So many things that would be feasible to do in the car in cooler weather.
posted by yohko at 8:36 AM on August 9, 2012


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