Living from Spot to Spot

The following is a contest submission I wrote for SpotHero, a local Chicago startup. They asked for our craziest parking stories in return for a chance at a free day of parking. If you can top mine, or if you just have a good story to share, I’d love to hear it in the comments. And if you like, you can enter it in their contest by emailing your story to promo@spothero.com.

I attended college at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I didn’t spend much time doing homework or studying. In fact I barely attended school at all some semesters, so I had time to do a lot of extra curricular activities. For instance, in the Fall semester of 2010 I lived in my car, which lead to all sorts of adventures.

One such story involves being towed for trying to sneak a parking spot on campus. Another involves having my car towed because I parked it in an abandoned parking lot full of rusty nails. But these are both less memorable than the time I was awoken at 3am by the sound of my car door being opened.

For context, I started sleeping in my car 7 miles off campus at a Walmart parking lot. This was reasonably safe, with little worry of being bothered by passersby or police. In fact, it was fairly common, judging by the RVs and other vehicles I saw camped out in my corner of the lot. But there were two problems: It was too far away, and the lights never shut off. I could block them, with great difficulty, but it was a hassle and I got lazy. I began to park on campus.

I learned the rules the hard way via parking tickets. But once I got the hang of it, it was much easier than driving all the way to Walmart, with the significant downside of making me extremely paranoid about being harassed by cops or hooligans. I would spend sleepless nights wondering at the sound of footsteps and the sight of shadows. Even so, after particularly long days, I would sometimes forget to lock the doors before I passed out. This is what lead to my sudden awakening at 3:00 in the morning.

I don’t know whether it was the shock of the lights coming on or the ka-chunk of the door opening, but I have never snapped awake into full alert mode that quickly before. Squinting against the light, I made out a punk-looking guy in a red sweater with piercings all over his face. It seemed more studs than flesh. My first thought was that he was robbing me, and I instinctively thought to use the car door itself as a self-defense weapon.

“Hey dude, what are you doing? You’re sleeping in your car, man.”

I blinked. He had a surprisingly kind voice. The man was weaving back and forth slightly, and he reeked. I didn’t know what he smelled of, at first (I’m an innocent about many things), but I quickly ascertained what it was by the marijuana leaf patch sewn onto his leather knuckle gloves and the weed paraphernalia he wore around his neck. The man was decked out from head to toe in marijuana symbols. My mind, already fogged by sleep, came to a dead halt.

“We had so much fun last night,” he went on to say, “why are you sleeping here? It’s…it’s outside, man.” Whatever aggressive feelings I had left collapsed into confusion. Had I seen this man before? My brain did a complete U-turn and repeatedly slammed into a brick wall. I concluded through this violent introspection that I had never met him before tonight. I mumbled something about a girlfriend kicking me out.

“You can crash at my place if you want,” he offered, “I have an extra bed.” He repeated this line a few times while I continued to get my bearings. I ended up declining politely. He shook his head, then ruefully scooted away on a tiny undersized red bicycle. “If you say so, man…” His dull red sweater made a drunken beeline away from my car.

I breathed a sigh of relief. Then I drove somewhere less populated and wrote myself a note before falling asleep again: “ALWAYS LOCK THE DOORS.”