Zen and the Art of Parallel Parking

When I was learning to drive, one required skill haunted my dreams. Leading up to my driver’s test in the summer of 1998 I would go down to the Qwanlin “Mall” parking lot, after hours, and set up pylons. Then I’d practice parallel parking in my family’s 1987 Tercel 4wd wagon.

It was boring and frustrating, and despite all my practice I never got good at it. The first time I took the test the clipboard-jockey found a quiet downtown street for my car and me and asked to see my parking technique.

With phony bravado I pulled up beside the car that was in front of the open spot, shifted into reverse, turned the wheel hard to the right and inched backwards. Then I cranked the wheel hard the other way and ended up perfectly situated between the two bracketing cars. Voila.

I was feeling pretty good about my self until the tester opened the door. The car was two feet from the lip. He didn’t say anything; he just made notes on his clipboard.

Perhaps he wrote down the famous line from Annie Hall: “Don’t worry. We can walk to the curb from here”.

In the end I automatically failed that first test because I exceeded the speed limit. I passed the test the second time I took it, but during the parallel parking section I stalled the chariot twice.

Suffice to say I avoided this docking method for years. But over the last half-dozen years my opinion on the matter has evolved.

I don’t actively seek out chances to practice the craft, but when I’m looking for a parking spot and I see a snug little opening on the side of the street, a humble surge of adrenaline courses through me.

Here is what I think now: a good parallel parking job is one of the most satisfying and aesthetically pleasing experiences a driver can have.

It combines the spatial dexterity of Tetris with the thrill of correctly placing a puzzle piece.

At his best, the parallel parker achieves a magical state where the distinction between man and machine melts away — leaving a single entity pursuing a single goal with grace and precision.

Still, I have not perfected the art. Occasionally I still fi nd myself too far away from the curb — but not absurdly so. And I take comfort in knowing that this is Whitehorse and there is probably someone parked much worse than me in close proximity.

But when I do absolutely nail a parking job I exit my car with a little extra spring in my step, as if to say, “How do you like me know, clipboard guy?”

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