Over 6 Years and 211 Spots, a British Man Conquers a Parking Lot

Michelangelo spent four years painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Tolstoy devoted six to “War and Peace,” and the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan took more than twice that to erect the Taj Mahal.

But did any of them park in every single spot of their local grocery store?

Maybe they would have, given the chance and the existence of a Publix or Tesco. Instead the feat was achieved by Gareth Wild, a 39-year-old production director who assiduously took up space, in one spot after another at the local Sainsbury’s of his London suburb, until he had used 211 parking spots over six years.

“If you do anything small, or a little thing over a long period of time, it doesn’t feel like too much,” Mr. Wild said. “Then you put it together and suddenly you’re being interviewed by people for your car parking exploits.”

Mr. Wild finished his unusual project this week, drawing notice from the BBC, The Guardian and other news organizations after he wrote about his “magnum opus” on Twitter.

In an interview from his home in Bromley, Mr. Wild said his car park designs began in 2015, when in the course of regular shopping, he thought to make a game of it.

At first, he thought he would keep a log of which spaces he parked in. But he caught himself: “I thought, ‘No! What are you doing! You’ve got loads of time on your hands, why don’t you try and get in each one.’”

So trying to park in every spot became the game. “When you’re going there it’s generally quite a banal thing, so at least you’ve got something to keep you entertained,” he said.

The project was not just idle ambition. He made a plan, and a spreadsheet. “I had to get some sort of numbering system in place,” he said. Rather than going on foot to count spaces — “I thought that might give off a weird vibe” — he captured an overhead view with Google Maps, he said.

He divided the area into lettered sections, color-coded it and assigned numbers to spots. “I quickly identified the ones that were in high demand,” he said, and planned to seek those out first. “The ones that were never being used, I wanted to save those for last so I wasn’t bottlenecking my approach.”

Week by week, Mr. Wild made steady progress. He did not park illegally in handicap or motorcycle spots. When his first child was born two years into the project, family spots became available. By the end, he had 211 parking spaces to mark off.

It would have been cheating to use multiple spots on one trip, he said: “How could I look my family in the face if do something like that?” But he said he did, sometimes, make a trip for wine a little later at night in order to chase the most elusive and in-demand spots.

The lot, Mr. Wild said, felt “like a hub of Bromley,” where people parked for the pub or to shop in town. “You get all walks of life in there,” he said.

Which is not to say there was much drama. He once saw someone back out of a space too quickly and knock over a man walking behind the car. “In a flash, the guy was up and livid,” Mr. Wild said. “But this is England, so straightaway people were apologizing.”

His family supported him. “My wife, she encourages the weird projects like this,” he said. “She knows that it keeps me entertained.” His parents? “They’ve always known I like doing daft projects, so they’re always behind me.”

Finally, through three prime ministers, a royal wedding, Brexit, “Megxit” and a pandemic, Mr. Wild closed in on Spot 211 this week. “I don’t want to call it an anticlimax because it was still great to finish, but by the last 20 or 30 it was inevitable,” he said. “I was getting one each week, it was pretty easy.”

There was even some melancholy, he added: “Six years is a long time. It’s a bizarre thing to sort of feel, but when it ended there was a real hollowness.”

By the time he posted about his achievement on Twitter, he did not expect to receive such a positive reaction. He attributes some of it to people’s love of “a nerdy challenge” and the impulse to collect, whether trading cards or parking spaces. Plus, he said, “people love a spreadsheet.”

He called the project “a very calm process” that gave him a healthy distraction from the pandemic’s profound toll on Britain.

“Doing something trivial has been quite nice because the very real crushing reality is of a business, which is struggling, and the world, which is on fire,” he said. “It’s just nice to have a break from all that and just think about something stupid.”

Thomas Fletcher, an associate professor at Leeds Beckett University in Britain and the chairman of the Leisure Studies Association, said that while he had encountered many quirky hobbies and pet projects over the years, “I’ve never heard of any thing like this, to be brutally honest.”

He said the project likely resonated with people because Mr. Wild had taken something so mundane so seriously; because the pandemic had so constrained many people’s own hobbies; and because it took six years.

“It’s completely bonkers, isn’t it,” Mr. Fletcher said. But he said there was also a lesson about the value of personal projects in the story. “Our leisure is our time — it’s what we make of it,” he said. However trivial or strange a project may appear to other people, he said, “there’s the meaning we invest within them for ourselves.”

Mr. Wild does not know yet what form, or meaning, his next project will take. “Maybe some other kind of spreadsheet adventure, because spreadsheets are great,” he said. “But I’m probably done with car parks.”

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