October 26, 2021

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What Seemingly Mundane Feats Have You Accomplished?

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Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.

Over the course of six years, Gareth Wild accomplished his goal of parking his car in every eligible space at his local grocery store. Why do you think he did it?

Have you ever tackled a seemingly mundane project like Mr. Wild’s — something that you came up with as your own personal challenge? If so, what was your project? Did you complete it, and if so, did you feel proud? Did you share your victory with others? If you abandoned the project somewhere along the way, why did you stop?

In “Over 6 Years and 211 Spots, a British Man Conquers a Parking Lot,” Alan Yuhas writes about Mr. Wild’s feat:

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.

Mr. Wild describes the methods and ethics behind his project:

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 I 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 article concludes:

Mr. Wild, whose main documentation of the project is his spreadsheet, said his “greatest regret” was not collecting more photos or details while it was underway.

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 anything 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.”

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • What is your reaction to Mr. Wild’s project? Are you impressed? To what degree does his story inspire you to start your own project?

  • Mr. Wild spoke of his rule that didn’t allow him to move his car from one spot to another during a single trip to the store. Why did this matter to him? Why do you think his family would have cared if he had broken his own rule? What would you think if he had admitted that he had cheated, even just a single time? Why?

  • What seemingly mundane project have you taken on for your own enjoyment? Did you invent your own rules to define the challenge? What was the outcome?

  • Why do you think people have had such a positive reaction to the parking lot victory? To what degree do you think this is a newsworthy story?

  • Have you ever witnessed someone else take on and reach a Gareth Wild-esque goal? If so, what did you think at the time? How did others react?

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Students 13 and older in the United States and the United Kingdom, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.

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