KENT WARD

Parking lot lost vehicle syndrome

Posted April 13, 2012, at 3:43 p.m.

When a downstate friend called earlier this week to regale me with a tale about losing his car in a Bangor Mall parking lot, it occurred to me that most anyone who has driven a vehicle for any significant length of time likely has a similar story to tell.

You park your clunker in a crowded mall parking lot without taking particular notice of your surroundings, turn off the headlights, lock the doors, make sure the keys and your wallet are in your pocket and head off on a shopping mission.

Quite some time later you exit the complex, homeward bound and happy, when it dawns on you that you haven’t a clue where your car is. It doesn’t help any that the entire lot seems to be filled with clones of the vehicle that you had so confidently arrived in an hour earlier. Or that darkness is descending and a major chill has set in.

When you get to the spot where you are sure you left your vehicle it is occupied by a nondescript sedan containing a snarling pit bull with his head stuck out the partially open driver’s side window, the kind of slobbering beast whose owner always insists wouldn’t harm a flea.

That leaves nothing much to do but wander aimlessly up and down the rows of vehicles, trying not to look like the absent-minded professor preparing to wind the cat and put out the clock for the evening. You spot what you believe is your vehicle, although it doesn’t seem to be where you left it. And for good reason: As you get nearer you see that the look-alike has out-of-state license plates attached and a bumper sticker urging motorists to honk if they’ve seen Elvis.

Close, but no cigar. You move on.

I have temporarily “lost” my pickup at an area mall on several occasions over the years, the latest misplacement happening not long ago when I came near concluding that some fleeing felon had done me a huge favor by hot-wiring the heap and taking off into the night. Then I remembered that I had purposely parked the truck next to one of the lighting standards illuminating the lot so I would have a marker to zero in on when the time came to head home. Turns out if you’ve seen one lighting standard you’ve pretty much seen them all — except, of course, the one standing guard over my truck on that particular evening.

Eventually I found the right light pole, and the truck parked nearby. It was a disconcerting experience, although hardly one that compares with losing a car in a parking lot at a major league ballpark or other big-city sporting venue. Been there, done that a couple of times.

An even scarier proposition involves driving into a city, parking your vehicle on a side street and wandering off to conduct your business, only to find later that you can’t remember just where that side street is or any of its distinguishing features. At that point, the entire city becomes one vast parking lot, with rows of buildings and other impediments added to the mix to complicate the game. And because you are the only person who knows — or should know — where you parked, no one else can be of much help in your predicament.

Returning from a golf outing to the northland a few years back, a couple of friends and I stopped in Quebec City for a meal, casually parked our car without paying attention to our surroundings and set out to find a restaurant.

Later, our hunger sated, we were ready to head for Maine. Alas, the maze of cobblestone side streets turned out to be a bit more complex than we had remembered from previous visits to the grand old city and our search for the vehicle quickly became a Three Stooges routine — Larry, Curly and Moe adrift in a foreign culture in search of their ride, and no one to turn to for assistance.

We eventually found the car, but not before a bilingual cop on the beat had noticed our suspicious behavior and asked what our problem was. “Lost our car. They all look the same these days. We feel like dopes,” our leader breezily replied.

The officer smiled and offered words of encouragement, in two languages. But we knew what he was thinking, in both tongues: If they act like dopes and talk like dopes, it’s a pretty safe bet they are dopes.

BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. His email address is maineolddawg@gmail.com.

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