Monday, April 23, 2012

How I Almost Learned to Parallel Park

Last week I was driving to pottery class, and I saw someone accidentally (I presume) drive his car up over the curb and on to the sidewalk.  It reminded me of the time I did that trying to parallel park at work.  And the other time I did that.  And the other other time.  Hell, I must have jumped that damn curb forty or fifty times.

You see, I cannot parallel park.  I'm sure this comes as a great shock to those who know me.

It would be nice to blame this disability of mine on my driver's ed teacher, and it's true that when I took the course, the State of Ohio did not actually include parallel parking on the driving test.  They had replaced it with something called a "maneuverability test" which, to my shock, is available on youtube.  I'll pause while you watch the video.  Go ahead, I'll wait:

You can see, I hope, that this test is an advancement in the art of driving and prepares one to, well, go forward and backward between orange cones.  This, I assure you, I can do with ease and confidence.  I also know how to go through a drive-thru window and order an ice cream sundae at McDonalds, which is how we used to end our practice driving each week, so there's that.

When I actually took the drivers' test, it was in the State of Florida, rather than Ohio, and I had to parallel park for that test.  It did not go well.  Plowing over top of an orange cone is embarrassing; plowing over an orange cone with a five foot flag on top of it is positively humiliating.  I passed the test by exactly one point and was the only one of my friends who didn't get "Safe Driver" printed on my first driver's license.  It only now occurs to me that the DMV workers probably don't ask everyone, "Of course, you obviously want to be an organ donor, yes?" with quite that tone of voice.  I believe they were trying to look on the bright side.

My lack of parallel parking skills did not really interfere with my life in college or grad school perhaps because, as the far-sighted State of Ohio predicted, people rarely parallel park anymore.  At least, people who don't own a car rarely parallel park, and I was able to remain car-less for a solid decade after I'd (barely) gotten my license.

Probably to everyone's relief.

But when I got a job at my current college, I found out that, first, I needed to buy a car, and, second, the closest parking to my building would be on a horseshoe-shaped loop where I would, every day, get the chance to practice my parallel parking.  Badly.

One particular morning, after managing to roll over the curb not once, but twice, without actually getting into the space, I got out of the car (to shout at the curb) and found my colleague Sally standing behind me with a look of great shock on her face.

Apparently, she had never been confronted with such a public display of incompetence before.

She rallied, though, and marched over to me with determination and a pen.  Then she did something which changed my life:  she drew a diagram that explained, absolutely clearly, how to parallel  park.  A diagram!  Slowly, correctly anticipating my stunning ignorance of the topic, she explained that you pull the car forward until your back end is aligned halfway up the body of the car in front of you.  Then you pull backward, making a forty-five degree angle, toward the curb.

It worked!  That was all I needed!  An illustrated diagram!  With Sally's help, I learned to parallel park effectively 50% of the time!  Don't laugh.  That was twice as often as I'd been doing it successfully on my own.  And I knew that with practice, I might be able to parallel park even more often.  Every day for three years I drove to work with confidence, redrawing that diagram in my head and easing into a space if I concentrated really, really hard, and one day it finally happened: 

I bought a subcompact car.


  1. I have a better parallel parking story cousin. When I was 17 I worked at Miami in the Dining Halls. I was sent to a different Dining Hall one day and I had to try to parallel park on the street. My repeated failed attempts attracted the attention of someone standing outside one of the buildings. He must have informed his friends of my struggle because before too long a small crowd had gathered. At this point I decided to drive away in order to save what little dignity I had left.

  2. That's funny. Was that before or after you nearly killed me driving my car?

  3. After....and you exaggerate. I actually pulled out and drove down the wrong side of the road with Mom while I had my learners permit. Consider yourself lucky

  4. Any improvement on your parallel parking skills? Don’t let it pull down your spirits, Natalie! I believe we all have our fair share of parking mishaps. ;] Just remember to ALWAYS choose a spot where the car will fit considerably, if not perfectly. The maneuvering is still the same, but knowing you have enough space lessens the tension you’re probably feeling.