I wasn’t paying that much attention to the car ad, but something caught my ear. So I looked up, and there it was: a man in a car that was parking itself. My first thought was that this was a joke. Surely this is a feature that no one was asking for. Surely this is feature that no one really needs.
In the click of a google of “Lexus parallel park”, I found that the new Lexus LS460 – and the Prius, too - can actually get into a parallel parking spot. All the driver needs to do is control the brake.
My wonderment here is profound. I understand that there are people who may not know how to parallel park. Who may, in fact, be too scared to try. But parallel parking is one of those things that works just like they say it does in the textbook.
I know that this is how it works, because it worked that way for me the first time I found myself having to parallel park. I remember it quite clearly. I was in a white rental car and had just dropped my boyfriend off at the First National Bank of Boston to run in and – in those pre-ATM days – go up to a teller and get some cash. Double parked, motor running, I figured I could sit there for a couple of minutes, not bothering anyone. But I was bothering a cop, who motioned me to move on. This was in downtown Boston, with its one way streets and convoluted traffic patterns, and I wasn’t exactly sure whether circling the block was an option. I envisioned getting lost, driving around for hours, breaking up with my boyfriend.
It’s not like I could call him on his cell phone or anything.
A few cars down, I saw that someone was pulling out.
I had never parallel parked before. I grew up in a city, but in my neighborhood there were driveways and an average of not much more than one car per household. If you parked on the street, it might be in front of another car. Or behind it. Never between two. Now I was living in a much more crowded urban area. But I didn’t own a car and was seldom in one.
I drew parallel to the car in front of the fresh parking space and put my flashers on. Nervously, cautiously, I started backing up and cutting into the space. With a little to and fro-ing, I was in. It worked exactly like they said it would. A textbook case.
It was years before I had to parallel park again, but when the time came, and I was forced into urban car ownership by suburban employment, I had supreme confidence that I would be able to do so.
And indeed I was.
No one who lives and parks in a dense city environment can get by without acquiring this skill. My neighborhood has residential parking stickers. Since there are 3 or 4 times more stickers than there are spaces on the street, this just entitles you to drive around for an hour hoping to find one.
In self preservation, I have become exceedingly skilled at parallel parking. In fact, I would even put myself in the 99.99th percentile here. I’m that good. My personal best was so tight that I found barely an inch to spare on either side once I’d gotten into the space. That it took me 45 minutes to park, and that I burned out my clutch doing so, is irrelevant. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to snap a photograph of my New Beetle in that little space. I was so proud!
Now this execrable decision on the part of Lexus to help the parallel-parking challenged. The one mechanical skill I have is being automated and obsoleted.
In a parallel universe, where business would focus on “because we should” rather than “because we can,” automotive engineers would spend their time making cars safer, more energy-efficient, and even more comfortable, rather than spin their wheels figuring out how to get a car to do something that any driver with half a brain and enough neck strength to look in his rearview mirror can do for himself.