In 2015, Gareth Wild sent himself on a mission — to park in every spot in his local grocery store, a Sainsbury’s in Bromley, a town in London, England.
The lot has 211 spots, and he shops there about once a week, so he thought the challenge might "alleviate the tedium" that comes with grocery shopping.
"The only real rules I set were that I could only use eligible parking spots, so none of the disabled bays, and also that I had to be legitimately there for shopping," Wild, the company director of Explosive Alan Productions, a creative video studio, told TODAY Food. "I didn't want to cheat myself by cutting corners, otherwise what's the point? How could I look my children in the face if I snuck down at midnight when the shop was shut and ticked off a load of spaces?"
To make the most of the project, Wild created a map of the parking lot, using a satellite view of the parking lot to mark off spots. He also developed a spreadsheet where he was able to easily keep track of which spots he parked in.
Wild said that for the most part, he did have family support while working on the project: His wife was "very supportive," though his kids sometimes ran out of patience.
"(My wife) is just happy that I do the shopping," Wild said. "My kids are young and would sometimes come along. They are far more interested in getting out of the car as quickly as possible and tearing the place up in a trolley, (so) their lack of patience meant that I'd have to sometimes just park wherever was closest and accept that I wouldn't be claiming a new space that day."
While the coronavirus pandemic caused some delays — British shoppers were encouraged to only go to grocery stores if absolutely necessary — Wild announced on Twitter on April 27 that he had reached his goal. The post quickly went viral — for reasons that even Wild doesn't understand.
"It was never meant to be this thing that I shared with people online and I am really quite baffled by the popularity it has garnered," he said. "I think people have gravitated towards it because there's a lot of people out there who set themselves similar mundane challenges to kill the time and appreciate the level of effort I put into the spreadsheet and maps. I think of it like a really boring card collection, just with parking spots."
As the post began to go viral, Wild asked people to consider donating to a local food bank, which led to donations from all over the world.
"It's taken off in a way we could never have expected and there has been some very positive outcomes as a result," Wild said. "In my original tweet I encouraged people to donate to the local food bank and amazingly cash donations came in from all over the world which if nothing else tells me that this venture wasn't time wasted."
Wild also shared a map of what he considered the "best and worst spots" in the lot. He took into account factors like how close a spot is to the store or shopping cart bays: The spots right next to the bays were usually cramped, but "you don't want to be so far away that it's a pain" to put the cart back, he said.
"After you've spent so long making your way around a car park, doing something like this, you may as well share your findings," he said. "… There are a lot of variables that can make a spot good or bad. But things that you can't plan for is when people leave their trolley in the parking space and you only spot it as you've already started pulling into it. There's a special place in hell reserved for those people."
The best spots in the parking lot, according to Wild, tend to be family spots, which have "additional space" and are "royalty grade parking," but "everyone wants to park there," making it difficult to secure them.
"Eventually I managed to bag all of those without having to resort to underhanded tactics, but I will admit to going down some nights later than I would usually shop just so the place would be a bit quieter," he said.
Now that his quest is complete, Wild says he feels a little "empty."
"Yes, it is a waste of time, and I'm sure a lot of people will think I need to get a life, but these little challenges we set ourselves to keep us from going crazy are what make us who we are," he said. "Six years playing a dumb game that is for your entertainment only is a long time to do anything, so when it was over I felt like I'd lost the fun from my shopping visits."
However, he does plan to embark on another project soon, though he's not sure yet just what it will be.
"Now that this is over I definitely want to take on another long term challenge; other supermarkets have asked me to come and do their stores and one is promising to donate money to charity for every ten spaces I park in while doing a shop, which I thought was a nice touch," Wild said. "I'll see where the wind takes me."