But with my healthy appetite and limited freezer space, I've been less successful at minimizing my trips to the grocery store. So when I'm forced to restock my food supply, I approach the store with a detailed mental list of the few items I need, sprint around the store throwing those items into the cart, and get out as quickly as I can, never deviating from that preset mental list. (Sometimes I even stop by the register and pay for said items before exiting). All in all, I think it's safe to say that I spend significantly less time shopping than the average person.
Another critical pillar in my anti-shopping strategy involves sitting in the car. When I'm with someone who wants to go into a store, nine times out of ten I'll choose to sit in the car rather than suffering the pain of shopping. I spent many hours in the car as a child...even on those hot days when I risked death in the suffocating heat of a closed car, I chose unbearable heat over air-conditioned shopping. The challenge with sitting in the car is to find a way to stay entertained while waiting for the endless minutes to pass. Listening to the radio is an obvious choice, but I prefer a more mentally-engaging means of entertainment. I've searched for years but only recently found the perfect solution.
Here's the secret: the ideal way to pass time in a parking lot is to play a little matching game that I like to call "Guess My Ride." The game's premise is quite simple--as customers walk out of the store, try to guess which car they're going to climb into. A middle aged woman with young children...probably headed toward the minivan. Burly guy wearing cowboy boots and a Stetson hat...chances are he'll drive off in the pickup truck. The ruggedly handsome, stylish bachelor who looks like he stepped off the cover of GQ or Men's Fitness...that's an easy one, he'll undoubtedly climb into the tan 1998 Malibu.
I first realized how fun this simple game can be while recently sitting in the parking lot at a Walgreen's. It was early in the morning, and there were only a handful of other cars in the lot. I spotted a relatively new Chevy Tahoe, a Nissan Pathfinder, a modern-looking Toyota Camry, and a 1970s 'Vette. I'm not talking Corvette--I'm talking Chevette. An ugly, white, rusted-out, Chevette to be more precise. Soon after I scanned the parking lot, a giant and "interesting-looking" man slowly ambled out Walgreen's sporting a long white beard, a parachute-sized green shirt, and black overalls that were large enough that they could have been repurposed as a circus tent. A towel hung out the back pocket of those overalls, and his eyes were concealed behind a pair of those giant, black, fit-over-your-eyeglassles sunglasses that are wildly popular among the retirement home community:
The instant he stepped out of the store, I made a prediction about which car was his. And right I was--he shuffled over and loaded his bags in the back of the 'Vette. Seconds later, I realized how fun this competitive version of people-watching could be. Is there a better was to pass the time in a parking lot? I think not. And it's a game that you can just as easily play alone as you can challenge a friend.
Obviously, I had the benefit of a relatively empty parking lot and one oddball car; my prediction was Guess My Ride's version of a slam dunk. For beginners just starting out, I recommend honing your skills in a similar situation--try to find parking lots with just a few cars, and park toward the back of the lot in a spot with good views of the store's exits and the other cars in the lot.
As your skills improve, you can work your way up to busier and more crowded parking lots. For the elite few who acquire Olympic-level skills in Guess My Ride, the Mall of America and its acres of parking lots and ramps is the holy grail of competitive Guess My Ride. My one caveat to the game: attempting to play Guess My Ride at a Wal-Mart store is pointless and will result in nothing but frustration. The incredible selection of rusted out pick-ups and run-down cars in the lot, coupled with the steady stream of trashy customers pouring out of the exits makes any effort to match the driver with the car futile and immediately sucks the fun out of the game.
Aside from that one notable exception, give Guess My Ride a try and watch the minutes fly by as you avoid shopping. Whoever came up with the phrase "you can't judge a book by its cover" failed to acknowledge just how fun it can be to try to do just that. And, for the game's more seasoned veterans, you can enhance the game's entertainment value by taking photos of your more interesting subjects and posting them online!