When it comes to driving skills, parallel parking is often seen as the most difficult. It’s probably because many people, including myself, never practiced the skill at all when they first learned to how to drive. (I didn’t exactly need it growing up in a one-stoplight town in Appalachia Tennessee.) That’s why, the first time I attempted to parallel park, it was a bit of a disaster.
Parallel Parking Part I: Taking It to the (Cobblestone) Streets
I was a sophomore in college living in Richmond, Virginia, the first time I realized that parallel parking was a very necessary skill. It was a Friday night and I had volunteered to drive my friends to a party downtown. Cruising through the cobblestone streets of historic Richmond, listening to some terrible song about a “G6,” nothing could ruin my night. Until I realized that the house we were going to was located on one of the busiest roadways in the city and had no parking available except along the street.
“There’s a spot right there,” my friend Michelle advised me, pointing to what looked like approximately 5 inches of asphalt between two BMWs.
“What?!” I shouted over the G6 song. “I don’t know how to parallel park! What do I do?”
At this point, a line of cars was forming behind mine, and an angry minivan driver had already honked once.
“Isn’t there like a garage or something?” I asked, panicking.
“No, just park here,” Michelle said. “There’s plenty of space,”
“I CAN’T PARALLEL PARK,” I repeated. “Like, at all.”
Minivan man honked again. A driver in a convertible honked then sped around me.
“Both of you — get out of the car and switch spots,” my friend Katie finally chimed in from the backseat.
“But we can’t –”
“Just do it already!” she yelled.
And so, in the middle of the street, Michelle and I bolted from our respective seats, ran around the front of the car and switched spots so that she could parallel park for me.
Michelle glided into the spot with ease, and I never volunteered to drive downtown again.
Parallel Parking Part II: Seventeen Again
After college, I got a job offer in Austin, Texas, and while preparing for the move, it dawned on me that I might need to learn how to parallel park. After all, Austin was one of the biggest cities in the country, much bigger than Richmond. Plus, my office was downtown. Hopefully the streets weren’t cobblestone. Either way, I would need to learn how to parallel park.
“Can you teach me how to parallel park?” I asked my dad one morning, about a week before the move.
“I never taught you that?” he asked, referring to our afternoons spent in the deserted neighborhood parking lot where I first practiced driving with a learner’s permit.
“Nope,” I responded.
“Okay, we’ll start this afternoon,” he said.
And just like that, it was back to the teenage years of practicing driving maneuvers, while my dad, ever the calm one, encouraged me to slow down and take a deep breath every time I got frustrated.
That afternoon, in the sticky June heat, on the quiet streets of my one-stoplight town, I parallel parked for the first time ever. There were no cars driving past — but still, I did it.
Parallel Parking Part III: Hit It Out of the Park(ish)
I moved to Austin sight unseen, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I got there. But right away, my parallel parking skills would come in handy. I didn’t have a parking pass for the garage of the place I was crashing at for the week, so I would have to park on the street. At last! I was ready to prove to the world what a great parallel parker I was.
As I tried to wedge my way between two cars parked in front of the apartment complex, I realized there was plenty of curb space just farther up the street. Straining to see the sedan behind me because of the mountain of suitcases piled up in my car, I decided to pull up and park safely away from the other vehicles. Well, I almost did it, I thought.
A few days later I actually did parallel park on a somewhat busy street in East Austin. And as these things usually go, the more and more I practiced parallel parking, the easier it became. I still wouldn’t say I’m an expert at parallel parking, but I’ll never have to run around the hood of my car and switch spots with a friend again. (Bless you, Michelle.)
Now all I have to learn is how to back-in angle park into one of those spots on South Congress.