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Posted on Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 5:01 a.m.

Whole Foods parking lot encounter: Was it my car or just the way I was dressed?

By Dwight Lang

After turning onto Stadium Boulevard, I headed east toward Washtenaw Avenue. It was still sunny and around 2:30 p.m. First stop would be Planet Fitness behind the Big Boy restaurant in Ypsilanti for a vigorous workout. I could already feel my heart thumping at resistance level ten on the elliptical machine.

On the way home, I'd stop off for a few tasty dinner items and make a quick visit to the Postal Annex at Georgetown Gifts. Perhaps, I’d see my daughter at Whole Foods as she tallied up food bills for hungry customers.

About two hours later, I pulled into the crowded parking lot at Whole Foods on Washtenaw Avenue in Ann Arbor. A large SUV was close behind.

Fortunately it wasn't snowing yet and a parking spot appeared off to my left. Getting out of my car into slightly cold air I could see and smell smoke from meat cooking at nearby Satchel's BBQ. As the Cadillac Escalade (SUV) parked directly behind me, the driver used up one-and-a-half spaces.

We both exited our vehicles about the same time and would occupy similar walking space heading to Whole Foods' front door.

This well-dressed woman in her mid-40s casually glanced over her left shoulder in my direction as I stepped behind my car — a pretty good looking 1993 Toyota Corolla with a little rust, a bent right rear fender area and a few scratches here and there. This second car is still a dependable source of in-town transportation.

My soon-to-be fellow shopper urgently clutched her purse and started walking briskly — continuing to look at me over her shoulder.

I slowly made my way to the sliding glass doors thinking I might see her in the vegetable or fruit areas. What happened during this brief 10- or 15-second event? Why did she practically run into the store? Why did she seem fearful?

Bumper sticker 4.jpg

Person and car in question

Dwight Lang | Contributor

Was she afraid I’d call out for her to re-park her Cadillac?

Was it my older car with a bumper sticker reading: No More Tax Breaks for the Super Rich? Surely she didn’t think I was a wealth-redistributing, entitlement-preaching socialist — you never know about Ann Arborites in their bubble.

Was it the way I was dressed on my way home from the gym: baggy gray sweatpants, an over-sized black sweatshirt, a hood pulled up over my head and black baseball hat with a yellow O on the front? Perhaps I looked like a much older version of Eminem just in from the trailer park on Eight Mile for a night of rapping who knows where.

Was I a radical monk with a vow of poverty from a nearby monastery?

Was I headed in to rob the place?

I cautiously considered her possible sources of anxiety and wondered if she'd alert the manager. Would it be risky to sample more than one spicy Italian sausage slice at the meat counter or snatch a delicious green olive near the wine section?

I made it through Whole Foods that afternoon without any problems and all store personnel were friendly and helpful. I did pull down my hood in the warmth of the store. Hopefully a clear view of my Oregon Duck hat would help.

Later, I hoped to see my shopping friend in the check out area where a non-threatening wave or nod might help ease her worries. She was nowhere in sight.

When I left the store and headed to my car I noticed the Escalade was gone and two spaces were now available for other shoppers. Did she only need one bottle of Bordeaux Chateau Lafite-Rothschild for dinner? My Super Rich bumper sticker had not been tampered with.

Dwight Lang is a lecturer in sociology at the University of Michigan and an Ann contributor.



Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 7:43 p.m.

don't let the haters get you down, professor. i liked the story, and i used to have that exact car (in black/rust).

Dwight Lang

Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 6:36 p.m.

To all commentators: Only trying to be humorous - hopefully - as Winter 2012 is finally setting in. :) Just one of those everyday, not very serious events we all encounter when least expected. According to my dictionary: satire\noun\: work holding up human vices and follies to riducle or scorn. I agree that my experience could have many different interpretations - social class is tricky business in America.


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 7:58 p.m.

Ah, now I see where your piece went astray: hu·mor? ?[hyoo-mer or, often, yoo-] noun 1. a comic, absurd, or incongruous quality causing amusement: the humor of a situation. 2. the faculty of perceiving what is amusing or comical: He is completely without humor. 3. an instance of being or attempting to be comical or amusing; something humorous: The humor in his joke eluded the audience. 4. the faculty of expressing the amusing or comical: The author's humor came across better in the book than in the movie. 5. comical writing or talk in general; comical books, skits, plays, etc. Don't quit your day job!


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 7:39 p.m.

Ever think of running for office? You seem to have some of the required skill sets.


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 5:59 p.m.

From a journalistic standpoint, this piece is complete rubbish, or "filler" as it is called in the business. It is poorly written, conveys no useful information, and does not seem to serve any purpose, other than to provoke pointless internet discussion, which it clearly has done. It appears that the message the author wished to convey is that we shouldn't judge people based on appearances. However, the message gets lost in his ramblings about bumper stickers, class stereotypes, and how he's clearly a better person than the wealthy lady who can't park her SUV correctly. (For the record, improperly parked vehicles are something I find quite irritating, and should really consider doing an article about it.) Whatever the intended message, the author fails to accept the fact that people are always judged on their appearance by strangers. Call it human nature, societal programming, or whatever term the sociology department cooks up next, but it remains the same. Any half-intelligent creature learns to identify signs of imminent danger, however misconceived or uninformed these signs might be. If you don't want people to be cautious of you, don't dress in a manner commonly associated with petty criminals or drug addicts. Don't drive a car that suggests you are of lower socioeconomic status, which is the one single factor that causes petty crime. (This is why a middle-aged white man can make a rich woman cautious in a parking lot at night.) I'm not suggesting that you bring professional attire to the gym, on the off-chance you need to stop for designer groceries on the way home. Nor do I suggest that you trade in your old beater car for a nicer-looking one, or even fix the visible damage to it. What I am suggesting is that you learn to shrug off people's reaction to you if you choose not to.

Ricardo Queso

Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 5:19 p.m.

Creating fanciful scenarios over a perceived slight is not good for the blood pressure.


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 5:11 p.m.

I think it was probably the fact that she parked poorly and was afraid of being yelled at. People are far more insecure than we realize.


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 4:53 p.m.

It seems strange to me that even the writer considers this news. Journalism 101 teaches that "I had a some-what bad day and I'm going to gripe about it in print" does not a good newspaper make. Making judgements about a person based on what that person wears or drives is bad... isn't that what this article is about? Either this is very clever satire, or utter tripe, because I don't see any difference between what Lang did and what the offending woman *supposedly* did. The really funny part is that the editors of even put this up at all. Is it really such a slow news day?


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 4:16 p.m.

There 15 advertisements in pointless article. Some only mention, some actual link. Not ethical.

N. Todd

Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 4:46 p.m.

That is what I began thinking after reading the first paragraph. That is what I continued thinking when I finished the article. That being said, those who double park do deserve new, key-produced, pinstripes on their vehicle.


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 4:23 p.m.

You are so totally right. Hey professor, is this a social experiment on subjects who have signed no release forms?


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 4:15 p.m.

As an academic, shouldn't you have some more facts before you spout whatever assumptions and stereotypes you happen to believe in? What is the difference between your screed and the junk spewed out by conservative radio hosts? For God's sake, hold yourself to a higher standard. Wherever your graduate students are, I hope they are cringing on your behalf. And if they are women, I hope they are rethinking your fitness to guide their intellectual endeavors.


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 5:06 p.m.

I withdraw my original comment. Maybe the article cut a bit close to the bone or it's a bad day. Sorry.

rusty shackelford

Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 4:37 p.m.

As a "lecturer" --i.e. one who couldn't hack it academically--he is almost certainly (and thankfully, given the atrocity to thought and English prose spewed forth here) not allowed anywhere near graduate students. Impressionable 18 year olds on the other hand... Not to worry, I'm sure they'll google him when they have him for class and realize they have no need to take him seriously.

Queen of Dragons

Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 4:09 p.m.

He called her rich when he was driving his in town car?? how many people even a beater with a heater have a second disposable car? we have two cars one for me and one for my hubby but that is only cause one is paid off. This was the biggest wast of my time first off you shop at whole paychecks yet belive your self poor?? can you do that (no problems with the store itself just a bit pricy)


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 3:52 p.m.

Without directly commenting on the meaning of the editorial, I just wanted to say in truth that years ago when out on the town and people watching I would play a game with my wife "Professor or Bum?"


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 3:51 p.m.

I'm not sure what's worse - the pungent odor of arrogance that this guy emanates about his self-proclaimed frugality or the pointlessness of this article. Either way, your disdain for "the 1%" rings a bit hollow since you're writing about it from your cushy seat in the ivory tower.


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 4:42 p.m.

Lecturers are lucky if they have seats, let alone cushy ones. Let's be careful with our assumptions.


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 3:49 p.m.

Gee, someone dressed better than myself cut in front of me at the deli department.......where is my pen and paper, I smell a Pulitzer.... I completely agree with Brad, this could have been condensed into a facebook post.


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 3:44 p.m.

Sounds like someone has an overly active imagination. The larger question would be "who decided that this should get printed?". This stuff would be more appropriate for the author's Facebook account.


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 3:38 p.m.

Not sure who wasted more time Mr Lang for dwelling on and writing about an experience that most people on a cold snowy day, regardless of economic class, wouldn't give a second thought too. Or Me for reading a pointless article.


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 3:36 p.m.

LOL...maybe it was the dress shoes and sweats...that would probably weird me out too.


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 3:35 p.m.

This woman isn't a terrible person for driving a Caddy SUV, you know. If she can afford it, good for her. People buy cars based upon their needs. And it's no one else's business. Neither is one's wardrobe orpolitical beliefs. If you are going to advertise your political beliefs on your car, you'd better be prepared to get a few raised eyebrows. The only crime here is that this lady used TWO PARKING SPACES! I don't care who you are or what you drive, in Ann Arbor, the land of NO PARKING ANYWHERE EVER, no one deserves more than one. Someone mentioned dressing like a slob is disrespectful of the people you encounter. Well, what about the third car who didn't get a place to park because the SUV took up two spots? That's disrespectful. We are judged every day, right or wrong, whether we like it or not. That's human nature. That's the way of the world.


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 3:26 p.m.

zGreat story...very funny! I think I've met that woman!

Woman in Ypsilanti

Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 3:12 p.m.

Ann Arbor is way more tolerant of ultra casual dressing than most places I've been. I don't shop at Whole Foods but I've seen lots of people shopping in sweats or even pajamas at Kroger and Trader Joe's. Until recently, I have driven a beater car. So many others do that no one stands out who does this. Driving a car for as long as possible is the environmentally responsible thing to do after all. Maybe without realizing it, the author was giving the woman in the SUV a dirty look. I know that I am guilty of this because it is a huge pet peeve of mine when people take up two parking spaces. So maybe her version of the story goes something like this: "I was just going to Whole Foods to pick up some wine and this man totally gave me a dirty look in the parking lot for NO REASON. At first I thought I was mistaken but then I looked back and sure enough, there he was scowling at me., What a pig!"


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 3:17 p.m.

LOL...maybe it was the dress shoes and sweats...that would probably weird me out too.


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 3:10 p.m.

Puleeze...gimmie a break.


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 2:56 p.m.

Somebody was paranoid and it was not the woman. I was hoping this article was going to this stupid woman taking up the two spaces, the fact being pointed out to her and her having a flippant attitude about it. Unfortunately what we got was a fairy tale made up in your imagination. The fact that this "incident" was worthy of writing about it, shows it meant way more to you than to her.


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 3:14 p.m.

Amen to that!!! I feel like I lost a few dozen IQ points just for reading the whole thing! I was duped by a Toyota driver!!! Aaaaargh...Charlie Brown!

monroe c

Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 2:56 p.m.

Interesting. Professor Lang's biography at opens with the following: &quot;My primary research and teaching interests include: 1) social stratification (particularly social class difference/inequality)...&quot; I guess the professor believes social inequality only works one way. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

West of Main

Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 2:53 p.m.

You're overthinking this, man.


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 2:52 p.m.

Unfortunately as more and more citizens fall into poverty more situations, although benign , like this will occur. The uneven wealth distribution is beginning to be exposed and now it is happening in solid middle class neighborhoods. Poverty is never a pretty picture. The average Joe doesn't envy the wealthy all they really want is a living wage ,good health care and a chance to provide for their families and a level playing field. If you have worked hard and are successful great,you should be proud but if you have benefited on the misery of others then you should be ashamed not fearful.


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 2:51 p.m.

&quot;I stepped behind my car — a pretty good looking 1993 Toyota Corolla with a little rust, a bent right rear fender area and a few scratches here and there.&quot; No, it's not pretty good looking, with unpainted body filler and droopy bumper. The correct descriptor is &quot;beater&quot;. &quot;As the Cadillac Escalade (SUV) parked directly behind me, the driver used up one-and-a-half spaces.&quot; Tacky, and it happens all the time, no matter what brand or condition of the automobile. But that's not the issue, is it? We all know she's a reprobate because she drives a Cadillac SUV. The horror, the horror. &quot;My soon-to-be fellow shopper urgently clutched her purse and started walking briskly — continuing to look at me over her shoulder. . . What happened during this brief 10- or 15-second event? Why did she practically run into the store? Why did she seem fearful?&quot; Maybe someone in the immediate vicinity was exuding Ann Arborite- levels of judgment of the politically correct kind. &quot;Was it my older car with a bumper sticker reading: No More Tax Breaks for the Super Rich?&quot; Perhaps. Some people find political statements with all the sophistication of an MSNBC tagline offputting. &quot;Surely she didn't think I was a wealth-redistributing, entitlement-preaching socialist &quot; . . . despite a bumper sticker that showed your heightened sense of political nuance. &quot;Did she only need one bottle of Bordeaux Chateau Lafite-Rothschild for dinner?&quot; Some people can be so judgmental, and lacking in self-awareness . . . um. . . yeah.

rusty shackelford

Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 2:48 p.m.

What a pointless, passive-aggresive article. &quot;Was it the way I was dressed on my way home from the gym: baggy gray sweatpants, an over-sized black sweatshirt, a hood pulled up over my head and black baseball hat with a yellow O on the front&quot; If that photo is an accurate representation of how you were dressed, then the answer is probably &quot;yes.&quot; I know you just came from the gym and all, but dressing like a total slob shows a complete lack of respect for the people you encounter. You get all riled up because your failure to show basic decorum to others was returned in kind?


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 4:43 p.m.

If you hate the article so much, why did you take the time to first finish it and then post on it? Why ya gotta blast so hard?

rusty shackelford

Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 4:35 p.m.

I'm only going on the available evidence.


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 4:14 p.m.

I think you went too far with your &quot;dressing like a total slob&quot; comment.

Atticus F.

Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 2:46 p.m.

There are alot of assumptions being made by the writer. First, driving a Caddilac doesn't make someone super rich. Second, I know plenty of people who drive Mercedes and Cadillacs, who probably support many of the same causes as the writer (including myself). 3rd, did it ever occur to you that the woman might have been freezing her butt off, had other things on her mind, or simply been in a hurry? I happen to have to dress up for work, and I have a job where I can't post my political beliefs all over my bumper. As much as I'd like to pull into the parking lot of my office with a 'health care is a right' bumper sticker, wearing jeans and a T-shirt, I can't. I often feel as if when I pull into Whole Foods, that people look at me with a judgemental view, or think 'he's not down with the struggle'. Unfortunately being judgemental, and making assumptions about others is a trait that all humans are capable of. No matter how good of a person you are, or what your political views. Sometimes, a man wearing a suit and tie takes a look at someone wearing jeans and makes a judgement about them...Other times a man wearing jeans looks at a person wearing a suit, and makes a judgment about him.


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 2:41 p.m.

Thanks for this noticing of the plague of fear and loathing that our community has developed. Don't taze me bro..

Judy Sines

Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 2:33 p.m.

It seems to me that you are in the same boat as you assume the woman in the SUV. Didn't you judge her as you assume she judged you. She looked over at you and hurried into the store because she might think you were going to rob her or the store or worse. Then you commented on her expensive purchase in the store (Bordeaux Chateau Lafile -Rothchild) instead of maybe just getting dinner for her family after working a long day and was in a hurry. She might be actually paying her fair share of taxes. We don't know. Just watch how we all judge people.


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 4:11 p.m.

Good post Judy. I know that I am very guilty f this type of thinking myself. I want to work on that.


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 2:51 p.m.

She didn't actually purchase the wine. He was being humorous. I won't say anything else....I wouldn't want to appear to be judging you.


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 2:31 p.m.

Her side: With the wind blowing and the snow falling, I quickly parked my vehicle for an emergency trip to the grocery store before dinner. As I exited my car, I glanced over my shoulder to see where that awful exhaust smell was coming from. I appeared to be a broken down Toyota. I rushed inside to grab my missing ingredients, looking over my shoulder one more time to see if the man was having car problems. How is that car street legal, I thought to myself? Once inside, I found what I needed and quickly rushed out again. The End.


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 2:31 p.m.

I mean this in all sincerity: can someone please explain to me the point of this article. It sounds to me like he was judging her just as much (if not more) than she was judging him. I must be missing some revelatory message here.


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 6:53 p.m.

I agree with dotdash... Your comment was spot on. I do find it ironic however (and not being negative) that the point made in your original post shows how we, as normal humans, always tend to think that everyone else is thinking the worst about us. In your second post, it appears that you unknowingly did the exact same thing. : ) Like I said, I'm not attacking or being negative: I just think we found the &quot;revelatory message&quot;. Maybe, just maybe, the good professor just proved his point in a little secret experiment of &quot;human nature&quot;...


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 5:11 p.m.

I voted for your comment because it was succinct and pointed out legitimate problems with anyone making assumptions about others' motivations or thoughts. Yours was a fine comment and I don't think it was snarky, even if others (like mine) were. But you are right about how easy it is to fire back, and I have withdrawn my comment below for that reason.


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 4:41 p.m.

I'm a bit aghast at how many votes my initial comment has received, and with how many negative comments there are following it. I posted this comment this morning when there were only two other comments. At the time, I was sincerely pleading ignorance because I didn't understand the intended purpose. I don't take any pleasure in calling into question Mr. Lang's writing abilities or experience, which was apparently very salient for him. I simply didn't understand what his argument (or point) was. Apparently that came across as snarky, which has somehow translated into many &quot;votes&quot; for my comment. I certainly am not proud of that, and apologize to Mr. Lang if it comes across as mocking or diminishing in any way. I think all of us need to be careful not to fall into the easy trap of holier-than-thou commenting that sometimes permeates this site. If Mr. Lang told us this story at a party we'd probably chuckle or nod politely (even if we didn't get it.) I apologize if my comment was taken as anything short of that (though the duality of judging by the author and his subject still remains a concern.) Just the same, let's give the guy a break, eh?


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 2:30 p.m.

It's gettin' REAL in the Whole Foods parking lot!

Ron Granger

Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 2:28 p.m.

You are fortunate. I really can't imagine why she did not pepper spray you, just to be sure. You can't be too careful.


Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 2:08 p.m.

lol. It is more likely guys like you would stop to assist someone in distress. Looks can be deceiving. For the judging kind, there are millionares who go around town in a non-descript manner.