Monday, July 20, 2009
(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel July 20, 2009)
My son and I recently met with his soon-to-be college roommate to discuss the logistics of first-time house sharing. After deciding who would provide what piece of communal furnishings and which pieces of shared cookware, we headed back to our separate cars.
It was pouring.
"Where'd you park?" I asked Laura as we stood beneath the building's sheltered overhang watching the rain.
"Way over there," she said, pointing to the far end of a large parking area.
"You're going to get drenched," I said. "Too bad you didn't park closer."
Next to the building was a line of cars — our minivan among them — lined one behind the other alongside the curb.
"I wouldn't have parked there," explained the college junior. "I never learned how to parallel park, so I always look for parking spaces away from other cars."
I was incredulous.
"Didn't you have to parallel park in order to pass your driving test?" I asked.
"No," interjected my 17-year-old son. "It's not part of the test."
Turning to Toby, I asked, "You don't know how to parallel park either, do you?"
"No," he said. "You never taught me."
He's right. I didn't.
I taught my son many things during his months of student driving — how to drive defensively, obey speed limits and use turn signals. I emphasized the importance of checking mirrors before changing lanes, explained how to merge safely into traffic and cautioned him not to ride the brakes. We practiced driving in fog and rain, on congested highways and on unpaved, bumpy roads. We drove into parking lots and repeatedly pulled into and out of parking spaces, but we didn't practice parallel parking at all. It never occurred to me to teach Toby how to wedge a car between two curbside vehicles.
If we lived in a city, this never would have happened. By necessity, city dwellers learn the ins and outs of curbside parking. We live in an outlying area. I can't think of anywhere within a 20-mile radius of our home where one would absolutely have to parallel park. Nonetheless, not having a need to do something regularly doesn't preclude the need to do it at all.
"You're going to have to parallel park when you are living in Orlando," I warned, but their returning stares said, "You poor, clueless adult."
OK, so maybe they won't need to learn. Perhaps parallel parking will become just as irrelevant as hand signals, driving gloves (hint: that's what glove compartments originally were designed to hold), hand-crank windows and — thanks to the Internet and GPS units — paper maps. I still need a key to start my car, but some drivers don't. In the future, I suppose, push-button ignition systems will make car keys archaic.
I feel torn. Even if it's seldom practiced, shouldn't all drivers at least know how to parallel park? On the other hand, if there are enough alternatives — multilevel parking garages and lots filled with acres of macadam — why put the effort into perfecting an unnecessary skill?
As my youngest child ventures out on the highway of life, I trust that the lessons he has been taught will serve him well. His education may not have prepared him for every situation, but with a good grasp on the basics, I'm confident the rest will fall into place. Until then, for those long walks from the back of life's parking lot, it wouldn't hurt to keep an umbrella under the seat — just in case.