Sunday, September 25, 2011

The K-Mart Effect

I am a rules-based person, and I often try to convert my observations into independently confirmed laws of nature. The rules don't make much sense, but their effects are repeated in the real world enough times to make me feel like some kind of half-baked Isaac Newton.

One of my oldest rules concerns what I call "The K-Mart Effect." The rule gets that name because the effect was first observed in a K-Mart parking lot. Briefly stated, the effect follows a simple rule: "If you park a car in an empty parking lot, the next car will park as close as it can to your car."

Observe this example, noted at the Shirley, Massachusetts Town Hall parking lot just yesterday:

The driver of the first car at left parked far from many parking places that were closer to the town hall. The driver backed into the slot next to the parking lot's Island of Two Trees. Not more than 10 minutes later, a second car arrived, sweeping around the island, and pulling up directly parallel to the first car. There are at least a half-dozen spots closer to the front door of the town hall (out of sight, around the left corner of the building in the background) but it was imperative to the driver of the car at right to sidle up to the passenger side of the first car.

Maybe this was an isolated event for this parking lot, right? Let's repeat the experiment, this time with my Toyota Tacoma truck. I'll park THREE spaces from the town library (just outside the picture to the left).

... and not more than 30 seconds  elapse before a woman in a red sports car zips up so close to my passenger door, it's nearly impossible to get out from that side of my truck. Please note the EMPTY PARKING SPACES to the left (car's right) of the picture. That space is IMMEDIATELY next to the library. It's not a handicapped space, it's not blocked by anything, and it's actually as close as one can park to the library in this parking lot. WHY do people have to park ear-to-ear with cars in an otherwise empty lot?

My theory is that there is some sort of social capillary action that draws people in range of other people. They look for a community to join, and head for the most likely place for interaction. Maybe it's a pack instinct, or some kind of innate security about strength in numbers, or something else buried deep in our collective psyches. Whatever it is, it's annoying as hell.


  1. You are likely correct in your assesment.

    Part of it is safety as well. If one parks next to a "normal" looking vehicle in an empty parking lot, then when they return it will a safe environment. They will be less of a target (abduction, robbery, etc).

    On the flip-side, parking alone next to no one can be safe too. No one damages your car. But, you're out in the open, all exposed.

  2. I guess this explains why when I'm browsing in a bookstore (not that there are any left!) or in a greeting card section,etc., with no one else around, within minutes there are a couple of people around in he same section I'm browsing! Although, it doesn't explain why I can stand at a counter ready to make a purchase and none of the 3 employees present wants to take my money!

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