I don’t throw around the word “hero” lightly. It’s an important, powerful word, and as such I hoard it like a miser, choosing to dole it out with all the associated ceremony to people who do things so trivial and tedious and absurd that it would make an absolute mockery of the word. This is one of those times, and Gareth Wild is a hero. A hero who parked in all 211 spaces in the parking lot at his local Sainsbury’s.
Oh, and for our non-UK readers, Sainsbury’s is a popular supermarket there, and they’ve actually come up on Jalopnik before, since they keep a fascinating collection of photographs of their parking lots over the years, featuring some wonderful old British iron. Also, I’ve had one of their pre-made bacon sandwiches and those are great.
Gareth is in Bromley, part of the Greater London area, and his local Sainsbury’s has a parking with 211 spots, which Gareth carefully and methodically mapped out:
This image isn’t a diagram of a parking lot; it’s Gareth’s Mt.Everest, a daunting force of nature that he, for reasons so deep and primal that they evade being trapped by words, must conquer.
One spot at a time.
Gareth computed that he goes about once a week for a significant visit, with occasional other shorter trips, leading him to conclude that with adequate planning he could theoretically complete his dream in under four years.
Like any determined person with a dream, Gareth made a complex plan, utilizing all of the technological resources at his disposal. If we really want to get technical about it, that includes access to satellite imagery, along with more mundane stuff like a spreadsheet.
As an aside, I feel like having easy access to satellite images via services like Google Earth is one of those things we take for granted. If you told someone in 1985 that you were planning on parking in every spot in a grocery store parking lot and you had access to satellite photos to plan how you were going to do it, there’s a good chance whoever you were talking to would have reported you as a KGB agent.
But today we all have access to satellite photography, and Gareth used this considerable, unimaginable-a-couple-decades-ago power to divide a parking lot into sections so he could keep track of where he parked.
He has an excellent Twitter thread that covers his process:
It’s all worth reading, and there’s a good ancillary takeaway, too. Much like how the NASA missions gave the world Velcro and Tang and computer miniaturization and the development of seven-segment numerical displays, Gareth’s project gave the world a definitive qualitative ranking of the parking places at the Bromley Sainsbury’s:
I was so taken by Gareth’s triumph that I decided I needed to know more, so I reached out and asked him some more detailed questions about his parking adventure:
Me: First question, I guess, is why?
Gareth: I wanted to try this because I enjoy finding fun in the mundane and there’s nothing more mundane than the weekly food shop. It dawned on me after going shopping there for some years prior that it’s the sort of daft project I’d enjoy, like the worlds most boring Panini sticker album.
Me: I have nothing but respect for those motives. I know our readers will want to know about the cars you used for this. Any discussion of what is a more ideal parking car would be appreciated, too, as this is an often underreported part of car handling.
Gareth: As it took six years, I ended up going through three different cars on the way. The first was my beloved Ford Puma, such a good looking car but the visibility out of the back window on that thing is almost zero so it’s a good job. It’s a tiny car and can turn on a dime to help with parking. We sold that to a guy who turned it into a track day racer which pleased me immeasurably, knowing that your baby got to achieve a place on the track is all you can hope for when selling. I would have kept it but we’d started a family and trying to get child seats into the back of a Puma isn’t going to happen.
Next up was the Honda Jazz (we have these as the Fit in America — JT), a lot of people might scoff at the Jazz but that thing is ace. So well designed and whilst it’s not going to wow anyone I took that out on Castle Coombe track in the U.K. whilst filming for a car show (Carfection) and had a great laugh. I even managed to spin it coming out of the chicane. The Jazz was great for parking because it’s a giant glass box so you can see everything and it’s fairly compact for a family car.
We ended up selling that to friends and bought our first ever brand new car, a Skoda Octavia, not the VRS which still saddens me but the Octavia is just a great drive. It’s the estate so it’s a bit longer for getting into some of the harder spots in the supermarket car park but it’s got parking sensors which was new to me and now I fear I rely on them too heavily.
Out of all of them the Jazz was probably the best for this challenge as you could stick it anywhere with ease and nobody wants to steal a Honda Jazz so you can just leave it unlocked.
Me: Hell of a parking fleet. I’m throwing an old Puma brochure up here so everyone can see how great-looking those little Fords were.
Did you have special strategies for getting the spots you desired? Did you have the spreadsheet taped to your dash, where you could mark off spots as you used them? Would you ever leave if a spot was occupied, and return later to do your shopping?
Gareth: There were a number of spaces that I knew would be difficult to get, the family parking spaces were almost always taken so I prioritised them at all points, ticking them off as and when I could but it was a surprisingly straight forward task, there was almost always a space I needed and only on a few occasions when, with family, that I didn’t bother trying to nab a space from the list. I always had a handful of spaces in mind before I went. Most of the note-taking was done on my phone and then transferred to the master spreadsheet when I got home.
Me: I think I like that you had a space in mind even before getting there the best.
What are the best/worst spots and why? Why is proximity to the trolley return not so desirable? If you had to take a visitor to your Sainsbury’s, which spot would you use to show off the most? If you bought them a snack there, why would it be one of those little bacon sandwiches I had in London that time I went into a Sainsbury’s?
Gareth: There’s a bunch of spots that you definitely want to avoid, right next to trolley bays is risky because they have window height metal rails that jut out and encroach on the bay meaning you’re wedged in, no one needs that in their lives, plus you run the gauntlet of shoppers who just push their trolleys in the direction of the trolley bay without care of where it ends up.
There’s also a few high curbs around the car park that will lay waste to your alloys if you’re anything other than spot-on with your approach. I marked them on my list of places to avoid. The better spaces are positioned near the front of the store close but not too close to a trolley bay. They offer the easiest access and exit, the trifecta of perfection in the high-octane world of parking.
If I was taking a visitor there I’d aim for one of the luxuriously spaced bays on the curve of zone A on the map I drew. Those bad boys have an abundance of space either side (something that is very uncommon here in the U.K., especially a London borough). With that sort of clearance you can swing your door open with gay abandon and not hit anything.
If I were treating that person to a snack I’d be straight over to the hot meat counter. Sainsbury’s do some superb rotisserie chicken/chicken wings. Sure that would be messy for eating in a car but damn I love some chicken.
Me: Mmm, hot meat counter. What’s the best car you ever parked next to? Ever have an accident or ding a door or anything?
Gareth: The best car I’ve parked next to there was probably only a BMW i8 but at the time it was pretty special as it had just come out and I was obsessed with the shape of that thing. Strangely, people don’t bother taking their classic cars to Sainsbury’s.
I’ve not had any dings there myself but I did watch some jackass reverse out of a spot at speed without looking and knock another man down. The guy was OK but he got up with a look in his eyes like he was going to murder the guy in the car, but this is England, apologies were offered and everyone calmed down and went on their way.
Me: I respect that British restraint.
Do you suggest anyone here in America attempt this as well? Has Sainsbury’s approached you at all, and perhaps discussed the installation of a commemorative plaque?
Gareth: From my visits to America if you guys tried doing a similar challenge you’d be at it for a lifetime, I only had 211 spaces to conquer where as some of your malls have parking spaces as far as the eye can see. If someone in the U.S. does have as much time on their hands as me and enjoys a good nerdy spreadsheet then I’d love to see it given a go. It’s oddly satisfying.
There’s been a really positive response on Twitter from all this and a lot of people have been tagging Sainsbury’s asking that they acknowledge this Herculean feat but something tells me I won’t be getting a plaque or personal parking spot anytime soon. Hell, I’d settle for some free chicken at this point!
I’d like to thank Gareth for his candor, his achievement, and for the inspiration he has given parkers all over the globe.
Also, Sainsbury’s, if you’re not jumping all over this in some marketing context, you’re fools. Fools!