The Kindness of Strangers in a Parking Lot

This is a post about how easy it is to forget where you parked your car in a big parking lot, say at the grocery store, and ways to help prevent it. This sometimes attracts the kindness of strangers, which is puzzling because it’s not very clear how helpful they can be in this situation.

But you want to say more than something like, “Oh, that’s too bad, hope you find it before the ice cream melts.”

The other day, Sena forgot where she parked the car at the grocery store. The circumstances were a little unusual. She parked near one entrance to the store and after getting the groceries, left from an entrance on the other side of the store way across the parking lot. The landmarks were all different.

This is how things started: she ran into a guy with his little boy. The guy actually couldn’t remember where he parked his car and was trying to use his car key fob remote to locate it. This is actually pretty common nowadays. I remember leaving the eye clinic a few months ago and hearing a small symphony of beeps from a number of people using their key fob remotes this way trying to find their cars in the large parking garage.

Sena was sympathetic to the guy, but it was understandably really difficult to help him. He eventually found his car using the key fob trick.

Then the situations were reversed. Sena had trouble finding our car. She was roaming about the parking lot, pushing the grocery cart, obviously looking lost. This attracted 4 different persons (including the first guy she met) who were sympathetic and offered advice—mostly on how to use a key fob to locate the car by pressing one of the buttons (probably the lock/unlock although there might be a panic button). They demonstrated it by pressing the key fob button while standing right next to their cars. They suggested holding it far above your head.

This trick usually works best when you’re fairly close to the car because the key fob remote is a transmitter which uses low-power signals. The operating range may sometimes be limited. Sena was probably pretty far away from our car. She actually began to suspect our car had been stolen. She eventually found it by trial and error.

This episode resulted in attracting a number of people who were kind to her. That’ s encouraging since it looks like kindness is often in short supply. On the other hand, it’s not always good to be alone in a large unfamiliar parking lot, perhaps at night, looking lost and surrounded by strangers.

We can’t remember having this problem years ago before the era of keyless fob remotes, which I read was in the mid-1990s. And we didn’t have them until years after that. I guess we were just more careful about noting landmarks in large parking lots.

There are few things to do in order to avoid forgetting where you park.

You can try to find your car using your key fob remote, although the effective range of the signal might be too short to trigger the horn or the lights. And it might not work if the fob remote battery power is low. And if you’re surrounded by a lot of other people hunting for their cars using the same method, you might have a little trouble discriminating which beep is yours. This could become a YouTube meme, especially with different beep tones (like the 5 tones in the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”).

You can pick a landmark which will make it easier to remember where your car is. Many parking lots have large signs with numbers and letters which can help you.

You can take a picture of your car’s location using your cell phone, including more permanent landmarks than just the other cars adjacent to it—which can be driven off by their owners.

You can also use a cell phone with Google Maps or another geolocation app to help guide you back to your car. Just about all smartphones have this feature. You can consult the owner’s manual for instructions for flip phones, some of which have this function. I don’t think car owners’ manuals typically have instructions for how to use the key fob remotes to find your car. At least ours doesn’t.

Good luck.

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