Over 6 years and 211 spaces, a Briton conquers a parking lot
Michelangelo spent four years painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Tolstoy dedicated six years to “War and Peace,” and Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan spent more than double that in erecting the Taj Mahal.
But did any of them park in every spot of their local grocery store?
Maybe they would, given the luck and existence of a Publix or a Tesco. Instead, the feat was achieved by Gareth Wild, a 39-year-old production manager who diligently took up space, place after place at the local Sainsbury’s in his London suburb, until it has used 211 parking spaces in six years.
“If you’re doing something small or small over a long period of time, that doesn’t seem like too much to you,” Mr. Wild said. “Then you put it together and all of a sudden you’re questioning people for your car parking exploits.”
In an interview from his home in Bromley, Mr Wild said that designing his parking lots started in 2015, when during his regular shopping he thought to make a game of it.
At first he thought he would keep a log of the spaces he parked in. But he surprised himself: “I thought, ‘No! What are you doing! You have a lot of free time, why don’t you try to fit into each of them. ”
So trying to park at every location has become the game. “When you go there, it’s usually a pretty mundane thing, so at least you have something to entertain yourself,” he says.
The project was not just an idle ambition. He made a plan and a spreadsheet. “I had to set up some sort of numbering system,” he said. Rather than going on foot to count spaces – “I thought it might give off a weird vibe” – he captured an aerial view with Google Maps, he said.
He divided the area into lettered sections, color coded it, and assigned numbers to the spots. “I quickly identified which ones were in high demand,” he said, and planned to research them first. “The ones that were never used, I wanted to save them for last so as not to interfere with my approach.”
Week after week, Mr. Wild has made steady progress. He did not park illegally in spaces for the disabled or for motorcycles. When her first child was born two years after the start of the project, family places became available. In the end, he had 211 parking spaces to demarcate.
It would have been cheating to use multiple spots in one trip, he said, “How could I look my family in the face if I did something like this?” But he said he sometimes takes a wine trip a little later in the night in order to hunt the more elusive and in-demand places.
The grounds, Mr Wild said, felt “like a Bromley hub,” where people parked for the pub or for shopping in town. “You’ve got all walks of life in there,” he says.
Which doesn’t mean there was a lot of drama. He once saw someone come out of a space too quickly and run over a man who was walking behind the car. “In a flash the guy was on his feet and pissed off,” Mr. Wild said. “But it’s England so right away people apologized.”
His family supported him. “My wife, she encourages weird projects like this,” he says. “She knows it entertains me.” His parents? “They always knew I liked doing silly projects, so they’re always behind me.”
Finally, through three Prime Ministers, a royal wedding, Brexit, “Megxit” and a pandemic, Mr. Wild has moved closer to Spot 211 this week. “I don’t want to call it an anticlimax because it was always great to finish, but in the last 20 or 30 days it was inevitable,” he said. “I got one every week, it was pretty easy.”
There was even a certain melancholy, he added: “Six years is a long time. It’s kind of a weird thing to feel, but when it ended there was a real hollow.
By the time he posted his feat on Twitter, he hadn’t expected to receive such a positive reaction. He attributes part of it to people’s love for “a cheesy challenge” and the impulse to collect, be it collectible cards or parking spaces. Plus, he says, “people love a spreadsheet.”
Mr Wild, whose main documentation for the project is his spreadsheet, said his “biggest regret” was not collecting more photos or details while it was in progress.
He called the project a “very calm process” that gave him a healthy distraction from the profound consequences of the pandemic on Britain.
“Doing something insignificant has been quite enjoyable because the very real overwhelming reality is of a business struggling and the world on fire,” he said. “It’s just nice to take a break from all of this and think about something stupid.”
Thomas Fletcher, Associate Professor at Leeds Beckett University in Great Britain and President of the Leisure Studies Associationsaid that while he had come across many hobbies and pet projects over the years, “I’ve never heard of anything like that, to be bluntly honest.”
He said the project probably resonated with people because Mr. Wild took something so mundane so seriously; because the pandemic had so limited the hobbies of many people; and because it took six years.
“This is completely crazy, isn’t it,” Mr. Fletcher said. But he said there was also a lesson in the value of personal projects in history. “Our hobbies are our time – that’s what we make of it,” he said. As trivial or odd as a project may seem to others, he said, “there is a sense that we invest in them for ourselves.”
Mr. Wild does not yet know what form or meaning his next project will take. “Maybe a different kind of spreadsheet adventure, because spreadsheets are great,” he said. “But I’m probably done with the parking lots.”