Sunday, August 5, 2007

Park it Here

As I was nipping my cute little Fit car into a narrow parking space the other day, it brought back some embarrassing memories of my early days as a driver and I’ve decided to share them with you, Blog World.

I got my driver's license when I was 17. The legal minimum age then (as now) was 16 but my mother was adamant that this was at least two years too young. Being a teenager, of course, I took this terribly personally. My journal is full of raging in CAPITAL LETTERS and hosts of exclamation marks about how she TREATED ME LIKE A BABY!!!!! and had no idea HOW MATURE I WAS!!!!!!! My father, on the other hand, had a very laid-back attitude about driving (he would later scoff at the professional lessons I paid a fortune for my own children to take), and had I forced the issue, my old-fashioned mother would eventually have allowed her husband to overrule her. But I sensed that she felt strongly enough about this that she would not concede without a battle, and I didn’t want to be responsible for a fight between my parents. (Firstborn thing again!) So we ended up with a compromise.

I got my learner's permit in the fall of 1973 and went out driving with my father perhaps a dozen times before taking, and passing, the test for my full license. There was no minimum time requirement between obtaining your learner's permit and testing for the full license. The examiners in our Kerrisdale Motor Vehicle Branch invariably took the same quiet, local route for the tests and of course we all knew from other kids at school exactly what that route was, so we were well prepared for it. I had a driver's license without ever having driven downtown or on a freeway, or for that matter, parking in a parking lot.

I had practiced parallel parking because that was required for the test, and to this day I am a terrific parallel parker because the car I learned to drive on was a Pontiac station wagon that was approximately 150 feet long. (I exaggerate only slightly.) If I could parallel park that, I could parallel park anything.

However, the first time I went to park in a lot was after I had my license. It had never occurred to my father, when he pronounced me fully capable of operating a motor vehicle, that I would be so completely lacking in any sense of basic physics that I would not realize that you cannot turn a car, and especially one that is 350 feet long, 90 degrees on a dime, as it were. I could not understand why I could not just pull up perpendicular to a parking space in a lot and execute a sharp L-shaped turn neatly into the space. Furthermore, having found that this didn't work, I was unable to figure out what to do to solve the problem. So for a long time I would happily parallel park on a side street blocks away rather than attempt to park in a lot.

Yes, I am horribly embarrassed but determined to confess that it took me years -- years -- to finally figure out how to turn a car into a non-angled parking spot. I know, for example, that I was 22 years old when I first began working full-time. A coworker and I were required to take a company car and go to a meeting at another office. She asked if I'd mind driving and, anxious to appear one of the grownups, I agreed. However, when we got to the building and I saw the parking lot was full except for one lone space the approximate width of a stalk of celery, I gave up on any pretense of savoir faire. I stopped the car, got out, and made my incredulous coworker park it.

To this day I am still a bit skittish about what I consider narrow parking slots, but I have, for some decades now, known how to maneuver a car into them! But -- loving the Fit!

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