Why do people park next to me in open lots?
March 17, 2008 3:09 PM   Subscribe

Who are The Fillers, and why are they after me?

When I have to park in a large parking lot, at a grocery store or mall, for instance, I try to park in an open area well away from the crowd of cars clustered near the entrance. I find it saves time over circling around looking for that great spot, and I like the idea that, over a lifetime, I'm getting miles more exercise than I otherwise would. But most of all, I do it in an attempt to keep my car from being dinged and dented by adjacent car doors.

Trouble is, more often than not when I return to my car, some sad soul has felt the irresistible urge to "fill" in the spot next to me, even in a sea of open spaces. Who are these Fillers? Does this happen to you? If you are a Filler, WTF? What is it that makes you uncomfortable with a lone car parked away from the others? Do you have other compulsions? Why do you do this?
posted by dinger to Society & Culture (36 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I think I might be a filler occasionally, not intentionally or mindfully though. Its more that I park as far as way as I feel comfortable, but I don't want to be the last one way out in a dark scary parking lot, so I usually park a little closer than the furtherst parked car.
posted by stormygrey at 3:13 PM on March 17, 2008

It's my theory that many, many people are incapable of parking their car within the boundaries of the lines without at least one other car to guide them. It is most definitely my *experience* that most people are completely ignorant of the dimensions of their car, so it would follow that they'd need external guides to fit in a spot. (This obviously would not apply to the many people who apparently don't give a shit if they're properly parked in a spot.)
posted by Banky_Edwards at 3:21 PM on March 17, 2008 [8 favorites]

Maybe they also want the exercise, but unlike you, they feel their car is "exposed" out there all by itself. They're using your car as a shield against runaway carts, thieves casually looking in windows, etc.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 3:28 PM on March 17, 2008

posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:30 PM on March 17, 2008 [39 favorites]

What happens to me is that I'll park in an out of the way place and return to find my space connected with the main mass like kind of like a parking version of Go or maybe parking Tetris. It must be some hidden internal human need to connect to the outlier.
posted by Xurando at 3:37 PM on March 17, 2008

Sounds like a classic case of confirmation bias. You have begun to look for this pattern so often that you think you find it everywhere, but really just forget the many instances that you don't find this pattern.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 3:37 PM on March 17, 2008

Hah. I was with some friends once and the driver "filled." When we returned to the car, there was a scrawled and incoherent note stuck in the driver's side door, all about how the first car had been intentionally parked away from other cars and didn't we have any respect and what the fuck was our problem and now I have to adjust my tinfoil hat blah.

I believe the reason my friend had "filled" was that one group of us was headed to one big box store in the strip mall and the driver was headed for another. He had attempted to place the car equidistant from both stores. He was then planning to sit in the car and listen to music with the doors/windows open if he was done shopping first and wanted to be out of the way. I don't think he had even noticed that the first car was there and certainly hadn't intentionally parked near it.
posted by Squeak Attack at 3:40 PM on March 17, 2008 [3 favorites]

This seems to happen to me once a week or so during lunch. I go and pick up a few sandwiches, then park in the outskirts of a basically empty lot and listen to the radio. Some weirdo always ends up parking next to me or a spot away. I have no idea why, there's an entire parking lot, and I'm no where near the store. I find it odd and I move my car away from them.
posted by sanka at 3:41 PM on March 17, 2008

posted by thebrokenmuse at 3:51 PM on March 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

Yep. Almost as annoying as fancy parking.
posted by Neiltupper at 3:51 PM on March 17, 2008 [3 favorites]

I had a friend in school who was a filler. He'd find the Porche waaaaaay out in the middle of nowhere in the parking lot and park his Ford Ranger right next to it, believing that thieves would target the nicer vehicle.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 3:53 PM on March 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

My theory is that it's because people (most of us, anyway) are herd animals. While I haven't noticed this particular phenomenom in parking lots, I have noticed it at the beach: you set your towel down on a deserted stretch of sand, and ten minutes later the family with eight screaming kids plonks themselves right next to you. Bonus points if they have an...enthusiastic dog.
posted by rtha at 4:04 PM on March 17, 2008

It might be OCD on some level. Your text has me picturing there being 30 spaces in between you and the nearest car, and your car only faintly visible in the distance through the heat waves rising from the parking lot. In that case, I can't fathom why anyone would park next to you. Unless they're jerks who are for some reason "offended" by your parking far away? (People get set off by weird things.)

But if you're closer, say, three open spaces, I'll probably pull into the middle one. Given all the spots, it's the most appealing. It's easy to get into, and yet it's not in the middle of nowhere. Plus, it's so soothing to know that I'm plugging holes, even if the holes don't matter and were in fact deliberately left.

I suppose you could also view your car as a mental "anchor." If there was a gigantic parking lot, and you were the only car in it (like sanka's case), I have thousands of choices on where to park. And, while I'm looking at all my choices, I see your car. Even though your spot isn't any better than many other options, it's something to differentiate it from hundreds of alternatives. So I might park near you. (This is more parking pseudo-science, though, but it's how my mind would work, at least.)

Given that others have offered similar comments about OCD, I don't want people to think there's some army of us driving around, hell-bent on filling gaps. It's just a very slight, perhaps subconscious, desire to even things out. We then have to decide whether we fill in a gap or not when we park, so of course, we do! I think the crazy ones are the people Squeak Attack's friend encountered, who leave angry notes when someone *gasp* parks next to them in a parking lot. Your case seems stranger, though.
posted by fogster at 4:10 PM on March 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

There are probably several dynamics involved here, some of them subconscious. I will now make some suggestions, with made up labels, in an attempt to define the thought processes that lead to what you label "Filler" behavior.

1) "Haste! Take Space!" - this occurs if someone is in a hurry to park and get inside, and they see your car marking the outer boundary. They fear venturing further into the lot and getting tangled up in the fray, losing additional time. Your car has subconsciously flipped a switch that says: further in, conditions are unknown; park here and get it over with.
2) "Deploy the Decoy" - As spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints mentioned above, your car is being used as a decoy for crooks and/or tow trucks. If there is any threat of your car being molested by either of these nefarious parking lot plotters, there is safety in numbers. Especially if your car seems more prone to an attack.
3) "Parking Lot Penguin" - The driver does not want to park in the crowd, and your car is being used as protection from the environment. If your car is large, it may be used as shade. Or there may be sprinklers, leaf blowing, lawn mowing, etc. in the vicinity and your car is good protection.
4) "In-Car-Gnito" - Someone's trying to hide. Maybe they need to change clothes in the car. Maybe they're not supposed to be there, or pulled over to do some smoking. Either way, they need both distance from the scene as well as a little visual cover. Solution = Your Car.
posted by krippledkonscious at 4:37 PM on March 17, 2008 [3 favorites]

Maybe all the employees have to park far and away and they think you're another employee.
posted by tamitang at 4:43 PM on March 17, 2008

I'll second what tamitang said. That's a really good point. When I worked at Borders I always had to park in the way off, and I definitely parked in the same general area of the other cars that were way off - because, hey, I guess I figured it was the "employee area," whether it was or not.

...It probably wasn't, now that I think about it.
posted by kbanas at 4:49 PM on March 17, 2008

I think I'd do it on purpose to mess with anyone who felt so special that they deserved not only their own spot, but the ones on each side of them, too. The people who park diagonally across two spots also deserve some special hell, but I am not often carrying the appropriate tools of revenge.

Then again, I'm sort of a dick.
posted by rokusan at 4:58 PM on March 17, 2008

When I've owned nice cars (Porsche, Audi) I would park way at the back of the parking lots to prevent door dings and such. However, if there was another car of the same make way out there, I would park next to it on the theory that they parked out there for similar reasons and thus will respect my car as I respect theirs. It was funny, living in Seattle and doing this, because there would be the Audi clump, the BMW clump, the Porsche clump. The problem with the Audi clump was, invariably, some wanna-be with a VW Golf would park next to it...

My advice is to not sweat it. The stress of worrying about why its happening isn't worth it. Just park and let park. :)
posted by jeffamaphone at 5:14 PM on March 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm going to second fogster's "anchor" theory. I've noticed similar behaviour in restaurants/cafeterias, on the bus, etc. I think it's some sort of subconscious instinct in people to gather together. You've created a nucleation site in the sea of pavement, somewhere for people to collect - possibly because they believe there must be something "better" about that spot, since you've chosen it over all the others.

This can be mildly irritating at times, especially on the bus: the ENTIRE bus is empty, don't sit RIGHT BEHIND ME!
posted by wsp at 5:16 PM on March 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

I sometimes fill- not if you're parked in the back forty, but if a lot is relatively empty. I'm using your car as a guide to make sure I'm parking in my lines. Sorry, I had no idea it bothered you.
posted by headspace at 5:30 PM on March 17, 2008

I park next to you because I have a similar parking strategy to you. I don't like looking for spots so I just drive to the open spaces at the end of the row and walk a ways in. Whenever I just leave my car alone out there at the end of the row I worry that it's going to get hit, because no one is expecting there to be a car there and maybe they can't see it because of the angle and maybe they will start to pick-up speed when they get to the end of a row and... So I park next to you because two cars are easier to spot than one car and your car is blocking my car from being hit on at least one side.
posted by 517 at 5:45 PM on March 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

> I think it's some sort of subconscious instinct in people to gather together.

I agree, on an instinctual basis, but I also remember reading some research about this by psychologists in a UK university. They specifically studied car parks and how people would tend to park near another car, not choose their own space apart from other cars.

I'll try to chase it up.

This definitely happens in cinemas, and I actually exploit it if I can. If I'm the first guy there, I'll put myself down in a particular area I don't want to be in, and when later arrivals have nucleated near me and the lights go down, I move to the spot I really want.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 5:48 PM on March 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think they figure that the lot will eventually fill up and at least they have one cautious person (less likely to ding) on one side. They may also be employees of a store at the lot and required to park far away from the store.

Now what's with people who sit beside you in a movie theatre? It took me a long time to figure out that those of us from small towns expect a certain amount of space in a movie theatre, whereas city-raised folks will sit beside you because the theatre will eventually fill up anyway. So perhaps these "fillers" in parking lots are city folks?
posted by acoutu at 6:00 PM on March 17, 2008

The Fillers are very much after you. I know, they are after me too.

Have you ever seen the movie "I, Robot"? If not, you need to go rent it. There's a scene in there where one of the main characters poses the question (amongst others) of why the robots, when retired to old shipping containers to waste away, gather together in the dark corners, instead of standing on their own. He intimates that they do this for a reason, but he never gets more specific on the reason behind the reason, then to cryptically and beautifully name it "the ghosts in the machine."

That is why. There are ghosts in their machines. Their ghosts tell them, in subconscious tones, that they must yield to the magnetic pull to be near others.

You and I don't have that ghost. Perhaps we have different ones, and so we should remain humble in our estimation of The Fillers - for we cannot know for certain whether or not we suffer from the same malaise with different symptoms. Maybe there's other people out there wondering about why your ghosts our ghosts are so odd, too.

Anyway, you think its bad wherever you are, try moving to Africa where the concept of personal space has never been effectively introduced. It annoys you in the parking lot? Try people standing NEXT to you in the line for security at the airport, the grocery check out, the fast food counter, etc..
posted by allkindsoftime at 6:36 PM on March 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Interesting, if not directly related: http://vandersluys.ca/?p=7914
posted by AmbroseChapel at 6:40 PM on March 17, 2008

I like to park far away, and what you're describing does not often happen to me.

I may have parked near you, though, if there was a type of spot near you that I am incredibly attracted to (as are others). I am attracted to spots that abut non-parking spots on one side. I can snug my tires right up against the curbstone, leaving a huge gap between me and the next car. So if you parked in the second-to-last spot on a row, and the last spot was bordered by an island for some plants, there's a chance that I would take that spot.

I will also drive up a parking garage until I get to a nearly-deserted level where I can get a spot like that next to a handicapped spot, or the wall for the elevator. There's often another car (often an expensive one) pretty nearby.
posted by popechunk at 7:22 PM on March 17, 2008

I recently confessed to an ex-boyfriend of mine that I hit him with a snowball the first snow of every winter on purpose. I fire one across his bow to get his attention. Then, when he is in the act of telling me not to do it, I clobber him.

I admit to being a filler because it makes me giggle.
posted by Foam Pants at 7:48 PM on March 17, 2008

I'm a fill parker where two luxury car drivers have parked with a space in between them. People that take great care in parking their cars with as much space between them and the adjacent one are likely to avoid hitting mine on the way out.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:10 PM on March 17, 2008

The "filler theory" can be applied to movie theatres too. My wife and I were the first two people in the theatre for The Fountain and There Will Be Blood. Both times, someone sat directly behind us to the left and directly in front of us to the left. Rows and rows and rows of empty seats. We weren't even seated in the middle of the row.

Luckily, both times about half-way through everyone else had left, it's the one benefit of living in a town with people who get bored easily.

Oh, and I travel a lot and park my van in far far far away spots to write my reports, take my lunch and make phone calls. Without fail someone parks at least a space away, maybe two. They give me uneasy glances, a lone-white-male in a white van with the windows down and NPR blastin', then make the mile-and-half trek to whatever store's parking lot I happen to be in. The eye-contact always weirds me out, they look at me as if I might do something to their car when they are the ones choosing to park next to me out in the boonies.

This one guy actually came up to me and sparked up a conversation about how I had parked with my wheels touching the curb, he said he was a repo man and that when someone parks their vehicle tight up to the curb and turns the wheels slightly it makes his job really hard. After relaying this information and standing outside my door for a few very very long seconds he decided to stroll back to his car, which was parked half-way cross the lot not far from the entrance of the store, and left.
posted by M Edward at 10:04 PM on March 17, 2008

I caution those of you who say you're parking by outliers because you think they're more cautious and careful: I park far away because I have a bad history de-parking and need the extra space. I never park next to an outlier because I've always assumed they parked way out there because like me, they lacked self-confidence.
posted by crinklebat at 10:04 PM on March 17, 2008

Fill the gaps. Fill the gaps.

Seriously, it bothers me that you even want to park so far away.Gaps should be filled.

I have no idea why it makes me so upset, but I had to get back online to comment again.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 12:40 AM on March 18, 2008

I park in the first double spot, as it is easier to swing in, unless the place is full. If you want to avoid me, leave at least three gaps spots.
posted by bystander at 4:46 AM on March 18, 2008

Some people have a heck of a time remembering where they park their car in a lot, so they use your car as a sort of tracking device...."I'm parked way out back, by the Porsche".
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 6:17 AM on March 18, 2008

I don't drive, but I notice this on the subway. An almost empty car, and someone will come sit right next to me - OR a full car that empties out, and the person next to me won't move down one seat. Drives me nuts. Feels very intrusive.

Also, when I go into the ladies' room in my office, I usually go to the last stall. Even if all the stalls are empty, there's one woman in the office who will ALWAYS go to the stall directly next to me. What the heck? I talked to some other women in the office and they've noticed the same thing.
posted by Evangeline at 7:07 AM on March 18, 2008

"Maybe (s)he knows something I don't..."
posted by nanojath at 11:17 AM on March 18, 2008

Okay, this thread makes me want to see if I can establish some mathematical relationship between the way cars end up distributed in a parking lot and the positions of herd animals like sheep or cattle in a field. (rtha seems to have gotten the same idea.)

O Google Earth, thine cup overfloweth with data…

I also like stupidsexyFlanders' idea that it's the parking lot version of slipstreaming.

I do this "fancy parking" thing but I do it because it seems safer to me - it seems less likely that you'd accidentally hit someone backing into a space rather than backing out of one.
posted by XMLicious at 4:47 PM on March 18, 2008

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