Monday, April 19, 2010

Parallel thinking: exactly who taught some people how to drive?

Author's Note: This is the orignal version of the column published in the April 18, 2010 edition of the Dallas Morning News' Collin County Opinions Community Voices section. I can always be reached at
If, as it is said, women are from Venus and men are from Mars, it’s probable a manned spaceship will actually land on the Red Planet, and if a man is piloting, the craft just might back into the parking space reserved on the surface.
For some reason, here on Earth, and the sliver representing North Texas, many of the male persuasion like to back into parking spaces at sites like grocery stores, hardware centers or those large collections of shops known as malls. You seem them far too frequently, taking their sweet time … slowly easing their vehicles (SUV, sedan, pickup truck or compact) into spaces … trunk-end first.
I don’t know the why or wherefore for this action. Is it to escape at a moment’s notice? Or is it to annoy the other drivers? As I rant within the confines of my vehicle, the question is always the same: “Who taught you have to drive?” Actually, it’s a very good question.
No one is taught the “reverse” method in any reputable driver’s education class (at least none of which I am aware). Back in the horse-and-buggy day when I learned to drive (in ice and snow up yonder), you were instructed on the disappearing art of the parallel park. In fact, it was one of the key factors in passing the driving portion of the state’s examination to obtain a driver’s license.
My father was the one who made me master that particular maneuver. One Saturday summer morning, he drove me to Belle Isle, an island in the middle of the Detroit River, and stopped in an empty parking lot. He got out, placed two metal trash barrels about 10-12 feet apart and returned to his Chrysler 300 (which had a push-button transmission) – with me behind the wheel. The instructions were simple – park the car between the barrels and do NOT hit anything (perhaps upon losing my head if I did).
Slowly and deliberately, I learned the tricks to parallel parking; the exact moment to turn the wheel, the proper angle for approach and when to straight out the car without a scratch on anyone’s bumper. It took 30 or so minutes; it involved massive amount of sweating on my behalf and a tremendous amount of patience from my father.
After three consecutive (and properly completed) runs, he got into the front seat and simply said, “OK, let’s go home.” It was like graduating from a special course, except Dad bought a Dairy Queen chocolate-dipped cone afterwards.
These days, modern multiple-parking locations require diagonal or perpendicular movements; you turn the vehicle INTO the open space and THEN you back yourself out to leave. Unless you’re on a street in an older section of town, you rarely see anyone parallel park; most of the time, you whip in and whip out. End of story.
Excuse me, but how hard is that? If you’re going to get a gallon of milk, why is it necessary to back into a silly parking space, take twice the time required if done normally and often jam up traffic as other motorists try to proceed? Is this just another fruitless sign of attempted male dominance? Or are we just showing off? I just don’t, and won’t, understand.
One last thing: when I actually took my driver’s test, the examiner charted me for all things necessary – turn signals (remember those?), adjustment of rear view mirrors, looking in all directions, proper maintenance of speed and smooth stops at intersections.
Finally, we returned to the office and he had me pull into the parking lot and turn off the engine so he could exit.
“What about the parking test?” I asked.
“You just did it,” the man answered.
A wave of massive disappointment enveloped me; all that practice and nothing to show off for it. I should have backed in.

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