Parking Pains and Little Gains

It occurs to me that many people seem to have far more difficulty parking a car than driving one. There are great many people it would seem who get in their car, drive someplace, and then – at the very end of their journey – seem lost as to how best to end it. Odd, when you consider the incredulousness of a pilot who hops on a jet, flies halfway around the world, and then parks his plane diagonally at the gate and has the passengers jump out seeking luggage.
Nevertheless, it never fails, there I am, minding my own business when I spot a car that is so egregiously badly parked that it baffles me. To clear up any misunderstandings, I am not talking about someone not being precisely between the lines, (though honestly – it is not that difficult a feat to accomplish) no, I am talking about people who believe that the painted lines and symbols in parking lots and parking garages are decorative and serve no purpose beyond giving aesthetic beauty to the concrete havens for their beloved automobiles. Let me make it clear: I loathe these people.
Worse still than the aforementioned group of radical thinkers are the people who believe that not just parking lots, but this entire world in which we live, exists solely on their behalf. You may have spotted some of these yourself in your time, as they are easy to recognize. Usually a black car – luxury sedan or SUV – parked just about anywhere in a manner which is reminiscent of tossing ones dirty socks onto a random spot on the floor. Tainted windows and enlarged exhaust pipes are a must for this select breed, whilst, with upturned nose, and beaming self-importance, they go about their business.
Lately I have taken to addressing this problem in my small way as a tribute to my late grandmother who possessed wisdom no longer prevalent in today’s homo sapiens. She used to say: “Change the world, but begin with yourself.” A keen reminder that none of us are perfect and holding up a mirror and casting a critical glance at oneself on a regular basis is the cornerstone to improving the world. To that end, I have taken 36 hours of state sanctioned driving lessons in the Netherlands. (Het Centrale Bureau van Rijvaardigheid, or in English the central bureau of driving proficiency, doesn’t screw around – they mean business) many of which were spent learning how to park in all conceivable manners. Though excruciating, I now have an understanding of the nature of parking rivaled by few mortal men. Then, realizing I had met with my grandmothers’ criteria, I turned my attention to my fellow road users (and abusers for that matter). It was, and continues to be, an appalling experience which confounds the senses, and perplexes the mind. Thus it came to be that in the spirit of sharing… I started telling people they sucked at parking.

It all began one faithful morning when, on an errand for my mother, I drove down to the local fish shop for some cod filet. You might be fooled into thinking such a task to be so simple and mundane as to be immune to disaster. You would be wrong. I live in a tiny Dutch village, and so our fish shop is proportionally sized. As it is in the center of a town that has existed twice as long as the United States, I need not explain the streets are narrow, paved with cobble stones, and parking spaces are at a premium. So it was that on this morning too, all three of the parking spaces reserved for the fish shop were already filled when I arrived. Not a problem in and of itself, had their been three cars, in those same spaces. Alas… not so. Across not one, not two, but indeed all three spaces was parked a vehicle the size of which defies logic in one of the smallest and most densely populated countries on earth. The vehicle of which I speak is a Range Rover Vogue (see picture)– the car for the midlife wife of Western Europe. Happening upon these scene on this early Monday morning, I could barely grasp the audacity of what I bore witness to. Dumbfounded, flabbergasted I stood peering out of my little dinky car at this chrome-finished tank, monopolizing three spaces as though on a mission from God. It was the kind of parking one might expect from a fire engine responding to a blaze at an orphanage full of cute young children. This person was getting fish.

I was not amused.

I found a parking spot a little way down the road, stepped out of my car, strode, steam protruding from my ears and nostrils, to the entrance to the shop. A little bell affixed to the door alerted the shop keeper to my presence. “Good morning!” She cheerfully called out to me, and was followed by some more muted echoes from the small crowd of customers in attendance, as is polite to do. “Whose car is that!?!” I responded. Everyone turned to regard me as if they were confused and thinking “that’s not how you say good morning!” I was beyond caring. A tender nerve had been dealt a serious shock, and taking a deep breath and counting to 10 just wasn’t going to move that car.
“Whose car… is that! I demanded again. Blank stares and gaping mouths all around… no volunteers. Then, in the back of the shop, a small, over-dressed lady raised her hand as if to ask a question and in a aristocratic voice managed to say “yes, it is mine, is there something wrong with it?” Boy was that the wrong answer. The brief dialogue that followed will remain with me, as a fond memory, for the rest of my days.

“Do you always park your car as though you are alone on this world?” I demanded.
“No,” she said, obviously still confused as to why someone could have a problem with how she parked at all “but I am only getting something here real quick.”
“Lady, look around you, this is a fish shop, we’re not here to socialize either – we’re all here ‘real quick’ for some fish.” It was obvious at this point that she had up until this point managed to ignore both the existence of other human beings in the store as well as the fact that they too might be here for the fish, and not for some other nefarious purpose. Without a word from anyone in attendance, or another word from her, she sloped her head down in shame, rushed out of the store, climbed into her gaudy wheeled monstrosity, and took off down the street never to be seen again. Satisfied that she was gone, I turned my attention back to the shop keeper and her patrons, who all turned away and kept quiet save for one young lady with a baby stroller. “I had noticed her parking like that,” she said “but didn’t have the courage to say anything. It is quite rude.” Her tone was apologetic – almost pleading, as though I might devour her baby next to appease my lust for blood. I was elated however, that I was not the only one who had noticed this social transgression and more glad still that my actions had righted an obvious wrong in the world. “I am glad to help” I told her pleasantly, strode to the end of the line, and waited for my turn. I quickly cycled through the chain of events that had just transpired again with a wide grin on my face. “She never did get her fish” the shop keeper remarked dryly, and everyone laughed. It was just after eight in the morning – this was going to be a good day. 

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