Rearview Mirror: Am I the Only One Who Still Knows How to Park?

I’m a pretty humble guy. You won’t often hear me bragging about lap times or dyno results or wicked mods. Of course, that’s mostly because I don’t have a lot to brag about (insert modesty here). But there is one skill I am quite proud of, and that is my ability to properly park a vehicle.

It’s not like I was born with some supernatural gift to simultaneously operate any combination of mirrors, throttle, brakes, clutch, and steering. No, like any other great skill, mine was developed and honed by practicing. I’m not ashamed to admit that for several years of my early adulthood, I sold cars for a living (though selling VWs in the early ‘90’s was quite embarrassing). As a car salesman, I spent the better part of any given workday moving cars in and out of tight spaces; everything from digging a car out of the most remote corner of the lot for a test drive, to lining up the front row like perfect soldiers. Without a doubt my favorite task was moving cars in and out of the showroom, a job not for the faint of heart. I was always proud of the speed and precision with which I was able to accomplish this feat, and was often called upon to perform when time and/or space were at a minimum. Never so much as a nick in five years.

So not to rub it in, but to paraphrase a Jerky Boys bit, I can pretty much park a garbage truck in a closet if I have to. I realize not everyone has the superb “training” I have, but I can’t help but notice that the ability of the general driving public to park their car, truck, or SUV in the defined spaces of a parking lot has seriously gone downhill. I was reminded of this fact today when I was forced to make a trip to the local Home Depot, where on any given day at any given time, you can find a couple dozen pickups, SUVs and cars arranged in nearly random patterns. It’s as if the yellow lines painted on the asphalt are merely a suggestion for others to follow.

So as I watched a fellow motorist position his minivan at an angle nearly thirty degrees from parallel to my perfectly placed Touareg, his front bumper nearly touching mine, I pondered the reason for this loss of skills. Have people really forgotten how to park their cars, or is there something else to it?

To me, parking a car is the most fundamental skill, the building block on which all other driving skills are built. Think about it. Parking requires the driver to treat the throttle as a fine instrument instead of an on-off switch. Forethought and planning are required to properly steer the car into tight spaces. The controls must actually be operated without looking at the dashboard. And most of all, the driver must have a sense of the vehicle’s boundaries and a perspective for what surrounds him.

Bad driving starts with poor parking skills. How can a driver not be a hazard at higher speeds on the road if he can’t even line his car up relatively centered and straight between two yellow lines at a snail’s pace? How safe can someone possibly be in traffic if he doesn’t even know how far the front of his truck hangs over into the next space in a parking lot?

Part of the problem surely has to do with driver education. We can all agree that getting a driver’s license in most states requires not much more than a warm body with proper identification. High-school driver’s ed is typically taught by the same person that coaches wresting or basketball and doesn’t have quite enough to do with the middle of his day. My 16-year-old daughter completed driver’s ed over this past summer, and I was astonished to learn that they don’t actually practice parallel parking now, because it is no longer part of the examination process. Unbelievable!

Aside from the fact that more drivers are on the road with less developed skills, there are also more and more SUVs and minivans in today’s parking lots. These vehicles are larger and more difficult to park than a traditional mid-size sedan. Not only are they larger, but once one monster SUV parks all catty-wampus (old-guy terminology) in a crowded parking lot, the domino effect almost certainly ensues thereafter.

Not to single out SUVs alone, minivans are also gross offenders of parking lot etiquette. Everyone know soccer moms have a hard time concentrating on menial tasks like parking when there are five screaming rugrats in the back watching Toy Story 2 on the flip-down DVD player.

Putting all biased generalizations aside, I think there is a deeper issue at hand. Certainly parking skills could be sharper, driver education could be much better, and most of us could get by driving a more socially responsible vehicle than we do. But all of those things still would not change the parking situation much.

Instead, I believe the real problem is that we have lost respect for our fellow motorists in recent times. We have become more selfish as a society, and we have taken for granted the privilege it is to own and operate personal transportation. More and more, driving is becoming just another tedious task, and who really wants to take the extra ten seconds to straighten the family transport appliance after battling 47 continuous traffic signals to get to the mall? So what if the tail of your car is hanging into the next guy’s space- let him figure it out if he’s in such a hurry to leave before you do!

As a car enthusiast, I still take pride in my ability to park my car properly. If we should happen to cross paths some day, mine will most likely be the car parked away from the crowd, centered perfectly in its space, setting an example that I hope others will follow.

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