Apparently Losing Your Car is a Chick Thing and Not Just a "My Mom" Thing

Or at least we're worse at it than men. Boo.
Publish date:
November 8, 2012
women vs. men, i'm turning into my mother, parking, spatial memory, it's the journey man

A couple of months ago, my mother called my oldest brother in a panic. She’d parked her car by a marina before going on a walk out to the Golden Gate Bridge and when she returned, she couldn’t find her Audi TT anywhere. She searched and searched until, finally, she realized her car had been stolen. She informed my brother that she’d called the police and filed a report, but now she needed a ride home. Could he come pick her up, please?

You probably know where this is going. By the time my brother arrived to take my mom back to her place, oopsie! She’d found her car. Turns out she’d simply forgotten where she parked it. (“Don’t tell Daisy,” she commanded him. Clearly, we know how that went.)

Oddly, she had no problem telling me a few weeks later when she somehow managed to lock her keys in the trunk of her car while she was at lunch. “Could you stop by my place in San Francisco and pick up the extra set of keys?” she asked. “And then drive them to me an hour and a half away in Napa?” It was 1 p.m. On a work day. I told her to call a tow truck.

But for all of my judging of my mother’s auto-amnesia, a few weeks later, I was walking to my car in the Outer Richmond District in San Francisco after a party when I experienced something similar. When I arrived to the spot where I’d parked, I hit my little clicker thingy. Nothing. I walked a block over. Still nothing. I walked another block over. Still no car. I’d misplaced my car! I WAS TURNING INTO MY MOTHER AFTER ALL!

But then -- no. I realized, lucky me! It had just been towed. $599 and one hour later, it took all of my willpower not to drive back and leave a nasty note to the losers who called the SFMTA for being two inches into their driveway in a neighborhood that is notoriously impossible to park in. Instead I worked on my new Zen approach to life and just patted myself on the back for being dumb enough to assume the best of people, but not dumb enough to actually lose my car.

Except, well, okay fine. I’ve totally lost my car before. But just temporarily! Which totally doesn’t count. I mean, how am I supposed to park my car in an airport parking lot and then still remember where it is when I return four days later drunk out of my mind on those delicious airplane bottles of vodka?

KIDDING. I do not drink and drive. Mostly. Seriously though, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wandered around an airport parking garage rolling my suitcase and clicking my little clicker thing over and over again just hoping to hear the familiar “beep beep” in order to lead me to my chariot. (Or, rather my 2005 Saab that hasn’t been washed in six months because seriously? What is the point? It just gets dirty again. I mean, sure I should probably drop the $450 to fix that 16-inch crack in the windshield at some point, but I mean, new fall boots or a functioning windshield? Exacula.)

Anyway, I digress. The point is: Apparently, this isn’t just a me and my mom thing. This is a chick thing. Well, not necessarily losing the car completely -- that’s just a “my mom” thing -- but having difficulty locating the car? Sorry, y’all, but according to a study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology and reported on in the Wall Street Journal, “About 59% of women reported having some or frequent problems retracing their cars in parking lots,” compared to only 42% of men. More women also use landmarks to locate their cars (38%) than men (15%) and take detours of up to 400 feet before finding their vehicle (21% of women compared to 7% of men). And just in case you weren’t feeling silly enough about this whole thing, men are also “better at estimating distances and more likely to take a direct route to the vehicle.”

Of course there are lots of theories about why this is besides the fact that men are just smarter, duh (joke!), but what’s interesting to me is that men and women use different spatial memory techniques to find their cars. I kind of feel like this also applies to directions. Most men I know tend to give directions like, “Turn left at Route 31,” whereas women say, “There will be a coffee shop with a green awning on the right. Turn on the street after that.” Or if you’re me, “Do you seriously not have an iPhone that can tell you all of this?”

Frankly, I don’t think it’s a big deal how you find your way -- whether it’s finding someone’s house or just your car in the parking lot -- because unexpected detours are often half the fun of the journey. Like the time my friend and I got stuck in Colfax, California when they shut Highway 80 down because of a blizzard and we made friends with everyone in this weird old bar and then the electricity went out and we had a group sing-a-long to David Bowie while the bartenders lit candles and served us beers anyway. Sure it took us over 12 hours to get to Tahoe, but that night? It will forever go down as one of my favorites of all time. You know, the journey, not the destination or whatever.

So what I’m saying is: FINE. Women might be a bit slower when it comes to finding our cars, but personally I’m not going to stress about it. Next time I’m roaming around click clicking away, I’ll just remind myself I’m lucky to have a car. And even luckier that I’m not turning into mother. At least not yet.

So, what's the real deal here? Do you ever have trouble finding your car after you park it? Any handy tricks to help the rest of us remember where we left ours?

Follow me on Twitter @daisy where I often tweet the terrible things my brother writes in the dirt covering my filthy filthy car.