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Holiday Tips for Drivers

We're approaching the season when my Internet skills get sharpened: holiday shopping season. I'll do almost anything to avoid getting malled at Tysons or along Rockville Pike. I lock in certain days off in December at the start of each year, not so we can travel to relatives, but so I can perform those few shopping tasks I can't get done online.

Any travel at all along the main shopping routes is vexing, whether I'm actually doing holiday shopping or just trying to get from one place to another. There are bottlenecks to avoid, lanes to steer clear of and times of day to just stay off the roads.

If I do have to enter a mall parking lot or garage, I'll park in the remotest regions, to avoid those drivers who trail you around, like stalkers, as you head back to your car. No one in a mall parking lot is in a holiday mood and people are ready to take out their frustrations on each other by fighting over patches of asphalt.

How do you folks survive this season? In Sunday's column, I gave readers some advice for their long-distance holiday trips. This week, I'd like to give them some guidance on how they can emerge from the much shorter local trips with their vehicles and sanity intact.

Here are a few tips I've collected:

-- Keep the total number of shopping trips to a minimum. Once you've written out what you want to buy for each person, do a list by shopping zone, so you can make the most of one trip and avoid having to revisit a crowded area.

-- Check your gas gauge. It's easy to forget when you're running on holiday Adrenalin.

-- Try to avoid shopping on your way to or from work. Everyone else has the same idea.

-- Do it now. When everyone else is fighting over a parking space, you'll be in front of the fire, mailing holiday cards.

By Robert Thomson  |  November 13, 2006; 10:04 AM ET
Categories:  Congestion  
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Ha...parking in the remotest regions! I second that. Only I do it because I don't want people dinging up my car like they ding ME up when in practically any public place. The worst offenders of assault by baggage are WOMEN(!!) with their oversize purses over their shoudlers. They turn left and right with their purses, whacking, pushing, and scratching any human being in vicinity. Do people really have that much tunnel vision that they cannot be aware of how far out their purse extends when they have to navigate around other people?

Anyways, I agree it's smart to just park in the uttermost regions of the garage so that you don't have to fight bumper-a-bumper for that opening parking space. You can also take a second more and back into the parking space, which is safer than backing out, without horns honking and people glaring at you.

One beef I have with going out on the road during this harried holiday season is the HONKERS. The HONKERS seem to be surgically attached to their horns, and if you dare hesitate a second as soon as the light turns green...HOOOOOOONNNNKKK! No (honk), as in a light tap to get your attention. No, No....HHHOOOOOOOOONNNNNKKKKK! That works better? My fiance always (honk) (honk)s back and waves out the window, duly noting how unbelievably friendly people in these parts are, always honking to say hullo! *sarcasm* I especially love it when it's coming from five cars back and the person in front of me accidently stalled the engine and is trying to restart as fast as possible, or there's pedestrians that haven't quite cleared the interection, or more often CARS that block the box with their me-first mentality.

Oh the joys of human interaction. Happy Holidays!

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | November 13, 2006 12:08 PM | Report abuse

Onca again the new Dr. Gridlock is a day late and a dollar short.

Was Friday not a federal holiday? Sure would have been nice to see some of these ideas published BEFORE today, the Monday following a three-day weekend.

Posted by: Woodbridge | November 13, 2006 12:21 PM | Report abuse

Shop after dinner time on the weeknights. I do it every year and I've never dealt with crowds, even the week right before Christmas.

Posted by: Dee | November 13, 2006 12:25 PM | Report abuse


Just what holiday do think he's referring to? Hello? Shopping, crowded malls--Christmas. Don't think that's happened yet.

Perhaps you might be a little late on the uptake...

Posted by: cb | November 13, 2006 12:51 PM | Report abuse

I always walk against traffic in garages and parking lots to eliminate the stalkers. Cutting through rows of parked cars helps as well.

Posted by: Steve | November 13, 2006 1:43 PM | Report abuse

What do I do? I shop locally and walk! I'm fortunate enough to live in an area (Logan Circle) where I can do all of my Christmas shopping without ever getting in the car and support local businesses while I am at it. I just make a big circle around DuPont, U Street, and Logan, stopping for a lunch at a neighborhood spot on the way. I love strolling along with my bags, breathing the crisp air and admiring people's decorations. Last year I got most of my shopping done locally in just one day (bought a couple things online, too). Zero stress, and even a bit of exercise!

Posted by: logan | November 13, 2006 1:43 PM | Report abuse

CB, don't you think that some shopping was happening this past weekend? Or were all the stores closed on Veteran's Day?

Look in a mirror and see who's slow on the uptake.

Posted by: Woodbridge | November 13, 2006 1:53 PM | Report abuse

At Springfield Mall, and at several other malls, every other garage level lines up with a mall entrance. Those levels from which you have to walk up or down steps to get to the entrance are usually empty. (And there's also an elevator if mobility is a problem.) Might not want to do this when it's late at night, but when the mall is busy, I can still park pretty close to the entrance.

Posted by: Va. shopper | November 13, 2006 2:23 PM | Report abuse


I agree, there was shopping last weekend--there's shopping every weekend (is he a day late and dollar short for that, too?). I don't think most people consider Veteran's Day a big shopping holiday (especially since it's not always on the weekend). Re-read his post. It's obvious he's referring to the Christmas holiday shopping season which traditionally starts the day after Thanksgiving. Hence, he's 10 days early.

Posted by: cb | November 13, 2006 3:16 PM | Report abuse

re: parking far from the store -- this is very unsafe for women. I will only do this in an outdoor lot during the day. In garages or after dark, I won't take the chance.

Posted by: safety issues | November 13, 2006 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Safety Issues, read the first post, use your big bag.

I agree, women with a huge purse just swing that thing around like it's nothing. Well, for those guys out there who've been nailed one too many times, here's a bit of salvation.

At Target in Springfield Mall two years ago, a woman who feels she deserves to cut through all of the people waiting in line started "accidentally" hitting people so she could get through (I followed her by walking BEHIND the long lines of 4 people!). Finally, she gets spun around and while some think she's being assaulted, the cuffs come flying out and the shiny badge on the uniformed police officer she just hit shines in the light. I don't know if she was arrested, but sure enough the cop got a huge round of applause as she was led out of the store.

I agree with parking off-level from the malls. Amazing how close you can get at Springfield on an off-level while the people above you are fighting for spaces. Also, with the exception of Ballston, try the top level, if it's cold and during the day, the sunlight will help keep the interior a little warmer.

Posted by: Ummm, hello | November 14, 2006 10:07 AM | Report abuse

Some of us live in the real world, not one filled with stereotypes that might make us feel better about well, whatever. Not all women carry big bags. I know some women who travel light and who shop with just a wallet and keys in a pocket. Yes, really. Who would want to tote around that much stuff anyway. I was mugged once (got everything back because after I was knocked down, I ran after the robber, calling out "thief, stop," a passerby intervened, someone else called the police and he was caught.) Believe me, I don't carry all my credit cards, license, etc. with me when I go out -- if I'm walking to a store, I sometimes skip the rest and just put some cash in my pocket. Or carry only one of my credit cards and some cash. The point about watching where you park is a valid one. I dare say if it was your wife, girl friend or mother who was attacked in a garage, you wouldn't answer so blithely.

The part that sounded a little unrealistic in Dr. Gridlock's posting was the bit about making out a list. I don't know about the rest of you, but sometimes I have to browse before I decide on a gift for a friend or family member or even for my significant other. Must be my age group 'cause we all seem to have everything we need. Sometimes it takes some browsing before I stumble across the right thing. More and more, I turn to to the web for my shopping. Beats dealing with the crowds.

Posted by: safety issues do matter | November 14, 2006 11:44 AM | Report abuse

Why people have to park in the closest possible spots always amaze me, especially when there's plenty of lighting, like the daytime! I routinely park in the back of the lots, for several reasons. Exercise and drivers that do not care about other cars - yes I care about my car getting dings.

Posted by: duh | November 14, 2006 1:14 PM | Report abuse

Saftey: FYI, I'm a woman, and I wrote that first post. I shop with just a slim wallet and my keys. No purse to speak of. But I am routinely hit once or twice a week by women (usually moms paying more attention to their precious screaming Junior than the presence of people around them) with tote bags that extend far beyond their person. I've been hit in the head when dining at a restaurant, hit and scratched in the arms when shopping an aisle, pushed hard in the back by a bag corner on an no, not every woman carries her entire house with her, but the ones that do seem to have no regard whatsoever for people around them. This is not a stereotype; it is reality.

I never go shopping without my fiance or a friend, so the parking issue is moot for me. In the off chance I would have to go alone, I would park in well lighted areas, though not necessarily busy ones (where people can hide between cars, and with so much activity, no one would really notice a scuffle.) I walk with a scowl/b*tchy expression, and I walk briskly when alone, so people tend to stay away from me by choice, haha! Gives them the idea I could beat the crap out of them if they even tried to toy with me. Good!

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | November 14, 2006 1:45 PM | Report abuse

I guess I've been lucky but I rarely am hit by a woman with a big bag or a man with a backpack. On those occasions when I am loaded down with bags, either on Metro or in malls or elsewhere, I try to have some spatial awareness and do my best to avoid hitting others. Also, I try to differentiate between someone's seemingly inadvertent action and what looks like carelessness or aggressiveness. It's interesting for me to observe here on Get There how some people admit that they deliberately stand to the left on escalators to keep others from passing, and so forth. The one that got me was the thread where someone referred to pedesterians as deserving to get hit by a car. No one deserves to get hit by a car although everyone should do their best not to disobey traffic rules (no jaywalking etc.) I shuddered when I saw someone write that people deserve to get hit by cars, given that my aged mother (who is in her 80s) was recently hit by a car while crossing in a crosswalk with a white walk signal when a driver decided to make a right turn on right -- without the driver looking to the red. My Mom did everything by the book and still got hit. Sigh. Anyway, I don't get the whole "I enjoy provoking or annoying others" vibe, given that the life is fraught with difficulties and challenges as it is. Why add to 'em?

Posted by: Safety issues do matter | November 15, 2006 11:00 AM | Report abuse

osOops, sorry about the typs. "When a driver decided to make a right turn on right -- without the driver looking to the red" above should have read "when a driver decided to make a right turn on red -- without the driver looking to the right.".

Posted by: Safety issues, typos corrected | November 15, 2006 11:03 AM | Report abuse

"Anyway, I don't get the whole 'I enjoy provoking or annoying others' vibe, given that the life is fraught with difficulties and challenges as it is."

Unfortunately, a lot of the local pedestrians do seem to get off on that, given how many of them stare at drivers while walking illegally.

As far as Christmas parking at the malls goes, I've always found that parking on the top (roofless) level of the garages is often easier and faster than on the other levels. I guess people want to park under cover.

As for the obnoxious habit of back-in parking, if you're going to insist on doing it, have the courtesy to use your turn indicator. I'm not a mind-reader and I will not back up just because the guy in front of me wants to park backwards but couldn't be bothered to give a warning. Some doofuses at my office insist on trying to do that and it is annoying, especially since they then wind up parking crooked, or sticking out into the aisle because they're afraid of hitting the wall (why back in if you dont't know where the back of your car is?). Backing in may make it easier to leave, but--NEWS FLASH!!!!--most of the back-in crowd wastes as much, if not more, time backing in and out trying to park backwards.

Posted by: Rich | November 15, 2006 1:42 PM | Report abuse

Trying again. My first comment was much more eloquent, but somehow disappeared even though I saw it posted early this morning. Web censors?

I back in to park so I don't run over any little kids or adults that love to walk behind the cars without looking. I'm skilled at it and it takes little to no time. If someone's up my tailpipe, I'll move on down, but I try to angle quickly so people see something's up and keep their distance, allowing me to park in peace.

I worked for the post office as a carrier, and we were taught to avoid backing up at all costs. Pulling through to an adjacent space or backing into a space are the best and safest maneuvers. People and cars do not walk in the parking space you are trying to back into, so there's much less risk than backing out into traffic (and people). Think outside the box a little and remember that when people do things that take a few seoncds of your time, there might be a bigger safety angle you're not seeing. An example: People turning right very slowly may just be waiting for pedestrians to finish crossing. People not moving when the light turns green may just be stopped because they see a fire engine or ambulance approaching that you do not see. Hmm?

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | November 16, 2006 12:53 PM | Report abuse

This is why God made Internet shopping.

Posted by: CEEAF | November 16, 2006 2:04 PM | Report abuse

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