I read an article recently on the various quirks we humans have, and was reassured to find that I’m not alone in some of my behavior. And I’m not sure if the failure to master parallel parking falls under the heading of an endearing quirk (probably not) or, more likely, complete ineptitude on my part. Whichever area you assign it, it’s pretty much been the bane of my vehicular existence for the last forty plus years.
I didn’t get my license until I was 20 and a junior in college. I wasn’t that interested in driving, had friends to squire me about, and it simply didn’t hold the allure for me that it did for lots of other kids my age. My Dad, an incredibly kind and patient man, understandably seemed a little more tense with me by the time I followed my three brothers to a license. While I knew all the rules of the road and was conscientious about following the speed limit and using the signal indicator, parallel parking was a bugaboo I simply couldn’t conquer. We practiced it ad nauseum, but I think his unflagging patience was tried to its limit with me. Finally, the day of the road test came and I was of course pretty nervous about the parking portion of the test, which came last. [May I just interject that I was really annoyed when I learned my own children weren’t required to park when they took the road test. So unfair!] At any rate, I passed the driving portion with flying colors, and then carefully pulled into the designated parking spot between two orange cones. If memory serves, this maneuver took two or three tries. I knew I was in trouble when the young officer opened the passenger door, leaned his head out and asked, “What do you want me to do, lady, take a boat to the curb?!” He passed me anyway, either out of pity, not wanting to have to repeat the experience, or a combination of the two.
I’m sorry to say that I haven’t improved much since then. I am self-conscious enough about my lack of parking skill that I’ve employed a number of methods to avoid the whole experience. Generally, I’ll coerce a more competent friend into driving if we have to head into the city, and have been known to ply them with paying for drinks if they’ll take on the parking chore. On one notably humiliating occasion I even stopped the car in Old Town Alexandria and had my daughter take over the wheel; it was that clear that I wasn’t going to be able to park. I suspect she is disgusted with me to this day! Should I find myself in the unhappy position of having to actually park on my own, it’s often quite the show. I tend to garner one or more men who out of kindness or sport feel called upon to help me as I flail about and drivers behind me become increasingly annoyed. The kibitzers will stand on the sidewalk offering helpful advice and counsel, all the while attempting to hide grins or outright laughter. “That’s it, turn that wheel! Good, come on back…you’ve got it!!” On finally exiting the car, I feel like I should either take a bow or slink off with my head down, but generally just thank them profusely and hurry the other direction.
However, that was then, this is now. I don’t know if it was turning 65 recently or simply chagrin with myself for being so incompetent for so long in this one area, but I decided to embrace parallel parking. Okay, embrace is too strong; I decided to attempt it with less fear and loathing. Perhaps I wanted to disprove the adage of being unable to teach an old dog new tricks, or simply wanted to master it while I was still able to get behind the wheel. In any case, I now deliberately choose spots on the street that require me to use the parallel parking skills that my contemporaries mastered years ago. No pulling in head first for me, no sir! I’m not saying it’s always pretty; it isn’t. It takes two or three tries sometimes, and frequently involves the tires scraping the curb as I settle in. But I’m doing it, and I’m 65! And yes, I have the i-phone photo, proudly sent to my daughter recently, to prove it. Now if I could only learn how to use chopsticks….