Have you ever been driving down a busy, two-lane road with cars parallel-parked on both sides and a long line of people driving in front of you and behind you? I have, and I tell you: it’s a terrible feeling.
Most of the time I’d rather drive right on by a plum parking spot rather than face The Audience, the group of cars driving behind me and strangers walking beside me that stop to briefly witness the awkward reality show known as Anyone Else’s Parallel Parking Attempt.
Yeah, my stomach gets knotted up and I lose confidence in my abilities to pull it off. I know the people behind me aren’t just watching me, either. No, they’re judging me too — since the quality of my parking has a direct affect on the length of their drive. If I suck, they wait, and they know it. They stare at me coldly, locking glances tightly with mine through the rear windshield, just daring me to pull it off.
Then finally I give it a go, in one of two ways:
- The Driving School Method. This is where you really don’t pay much attention to your car or the space you have to fit into. You just follow the book — pull up beside the car in front of the spot, put it in reverse and spin the wheel until you’re forty-five degrees out into the intersection, and then keep backing up while quickly spinning the wheel the other way really fast. If all went well, you should end up right in the spot perfectly. Then again, this method is equivalent to building an IKEA bookshelf using the instructions only, without pausing to evaluate your work throughout the process. You might just finish and then stare up at the crooked, unbalanced pile of plywood you just nailed together, and wonder what went wrong.
- The Advanced Spatial Skills Method. There’s no rhyme or reason to this one. You don’t do anything, except size up the space, and then fiddle and turn your wheel until you fit in. You’re just really good at aiming a big piece of metal into a small square hole, really. You’ll go in any which way you can and then it’s presto, finished, simple as that. People who can do this amaze me, because I cannot do this.
No, for me it’s the Book Method all the way. I have no choice. Of course, I obviously do something wrong, since I usually end up a good three feet away from the curb. Then I’m forced to try frantically to “drive in” to the spot with an awkward twelve-point turn, failing to properly understand the impossibility of this manouver each time. Eventually I just give up and speed off, fleeing the scene and distancing myself from this horrible embarrassment as quickly as possible.
I guess that’s what makes it so great when you really do nail that parallel-parking job on the first try. When you pop into the spot perfectly and tightly — like a battery into a remote control — you get a huge high, a smile reveals itself on your face, and there’s an extra spring in your step. Yeah, there’s really nothing quite like it. The other cars behind you zoom ahead, happy to keep moving, but a little upset you got the spot and they didn’t. And sometimes, if you’re really lucky, an old guy will stumble out of the nearby restaurant patio he was watching you from, extend his hand, and say “Sonny, now that was impressive.”