Pique N Your Interest 

The fine art of parallel parking

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I am turning into my mother. No, I haven’t gotten a perm that needs to relax, prefaced my judging of others with "I don’t like to judge, but…" or embraced denial as a lifestyle. The main symptom on my seemingly unavoidable maternal assimilation is my driving.

It happened while driving the Spousal Equivalent’s mini-SUV around the South Granville area a couple of weeks ago. It was there, on an otherwise inauspicious day that I had the harsh realization that I had broken a personal pact and turning into my mother was the price of that indiscretion.

It wasn’t the deeply furrowed brow that such journeys generate that tipped me off to the change. It wasn’t the fact that I had nervously stayed within the speed limit the entire trip. Nor was it the crick in my neck I claimed from obsessive shoulder checking. No, it was that I elected to make numerous right hand turns and travel six blocks out of my way to avoid making a left hand turn during pre-rush hour, afternoon traffic.

SE’s mini-SUV is not a difficult vehicle to manouevre. It’s essentially a small station wagon with lifts. The visibility is excellent and being powered by a five-speed manual transmission, it has considerable pick-up for a four-banger. Obviously, the car is agile and peppy enough to boldly take a left onto Broadway. I, however, am not.

This wasn’t always the case.

There was a time when I’d push my way into an intersection regardless of the shade of amber on the overhead traffic light. I would brazenly pull into a left turn, my fist posed for honking or gesturing. Sometimes I turned without benefit of a signal light or even a crosswalk. The idea that a left turn was achievable only with the aid of a green flashing arrow struck me as ludicrous and feeble.

All through my teens, my 20s and into my 30s I teased my mother about her reluctance to turn left and her resistance to parallel parking.

"I did it once on the test and vowed I’d never do it again," my mother would intone, as if parallel parking was a particularly distasteful act.

The disdain for parallel parking was something shared by most of the women in my mother’s family. The lone exception was one rebellious aunt who not only didn’t mind parallel parking, but chose to do it in a ’69 Impala with a hood the size of a king size bed. (Years later, while on a road trip, the same aunt confessed that she wished that she had been born a little later so that she could have been a hippie.)

For the first few years I drove, I felt that I had been cursed by this inability. However, when I was 23 my friend, Patti, showed me a fail proof technique for parallel parking.

"Line up the far end of your back window with the front car’s door handle of the other car. See? Crank the steering wheel right for the count of three as you back into the space. Like this, one… two… three and then straighten out."

It worked! At least it did until I turned 40.

How fondly I remember the gentle, rhythmic staccato bump-bump-bump that accompanied parallel parking an 11-foot long car in an 11.5 foot West End parking lot. I recall passengers’ jaws dropped in awe as I peeled into spaces that mere moments before had been proclaimed "impossible". Smugly, I would zip by expensive parkades in favour of cheaper metered street parking.

Now my evolving relationship with cars transcends the annoyances of actually driving.

I was once a fan of the self-serve gas station who’d think nothing of checking tire pressure, windshield wiper fluid, and yes, oil quality, every other time I filled up. With gas hovering around a buck a litre, I still pump my own fuel, but the vague enthusiasm I had for perfectly inflated tires and golden-hued oil has faded. So what happened? I can attribute not wanting to get under the hood to an understanding that others do it better and can actually diagnose what the "weird clicking, pinging" sound might actually be. My version of problem identification depends on the convincing use of a handful of automotive terms.

What bothers me most is not having an answer for why my driving style altered so dramatically. Is it cowardice that’s developed from recognizing that my reflexes are not as sharp as they once were? Is it cautious judgment that comes with the realization that 30 seconds extra of travel time is better than the stress? I should call my mom and ask.

Of course, my mother will deny that she has ever driven six blocks to avoid a left hand turn and will refute any claim that she employs an angle parking-only policy. But if she doesn’t and I do… hmmm… maybe I’m NOT turning into my mother! In the meantime, I’ll deny that any part of me misses those razor sharp reflexes and idiocy that made me never question left hand turns.

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