Author, Actor, Playwright, Excellent Parallel Parker


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Saturday, June 19, 2010

In Which I Become an Excellent Parallel Parker


An ex-boyfriend taught me how to parallel park. 
If you went to high school when I did, you probably learned to parallel park from overweight football coaches, and what a fine job they did, too! Perhaps football players respond well to humiliation, but when large men yell and threaten to bump me off the honor roll, I tend to go catatonic.

“Ziegler! What the HECK is wrong with you? I saw your name on the honor roll, but you’re not going to be on it next time if you don’t learn your left from your right!”

Since when did knowing one’s left from one’s right become a prerequisite for being on the honor roll? Anyway, he made good on his promise. I got a C. Sigh. I still feel the shame.

All through high school and college I avoided on-street parking, even when beckoned by a space the size of a school bus. I had post-traumatic honor roll drop-out syndrome. I would drive around a full parking lot for thirty minutes rather than subject myself to the memory of Coach Beerbelly and his sadistic threats.

Enter—oh, let’s call him Pontiac—and the redeeming power of love. Pontiac was soft-spoken. Pontiac was laid back. With patience and good humor, he showed me how to snug up beside the car in front of the space. He taught me to aim for that spot just in front of the rear car’s headlight. He taught me my left from my right. And he called me by my first name, which helped a lot.

Pontiac was a perfectionist. He insisted on a clean maneuver. Eventually, I got good enough to compete with him, and we devised a scorecard. A clean park was worth 3 points. If you tapped the bumper of the car in back of you, you lost one point.  After tucking your car into the space, you got one final back-up and hard turn ahead. Any more than one, you lost another point. If you hit the curb and had to pull out, you lost a point. If you ran over a dog or small child, you got minus two.

When we broke up, he was ahead, but I was closing in. Maybe that’s why parallel parking occupies such an important part of my self-concept to this day. I’m still trying to win. Maybe my inability to let go of a friendly competition is why Pontiac broke up with me.

Nah.  Classic case of the grasshopper surpassing the master. He saw me coming in his rearview, and vamoosed.

I think of Pontiac often, kindly, gratefully. During our brief time together, I learned the joy of squeezing my car into a space anyone else would think impossible. I grew proud of an ability many were taught, but few actually learned.  I became an excellent parallel parker, and hold my head high on the honor roll of life.

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