Parking Spot by
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Prompted By Parking

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First let me say that I am the best parallel parker I know, and I owe it all to my father. He was not a particularly patient man in general, and I don’t remember him ever teaching me anything else, but he did do a great job of teaching me how to parallel park. Was he my driving instructor the whole time I was learning? Did my mother ever go out driving with me? I no longer remember. It was 1971, the summer between my junior and senior year of college, and I just had two months to learn how to drive and get my license before school started. I do remember driving from New Jersey to Cambridge and back with my college boyfriend while I was still on my learner’s permit, but that’s another story.

Wherein I discuss parallel parking as well as a stint on the Attorney General's Office Parking Committee.

Getting back to parallel parking, my father had very explicit instructions about pulling up next to the car that was parked in front of the open space – how close to get, how far forward to go – then how much to turn the wheel while backing up, and when to switch and turn the wheel in the opposite direction, to end up parallel with (and close to) the curb. I have used his technique to get into very tight spaces, and it always works. The first time I tried to park on the lefthand side of the street (on a one-way street, obviously), I had a little trouble figuring out the mirror image of his instructions, but once I got the hang of it, that was easy too.

I learned how to drive in the summertime, and did all my driving in a convertible exactly like the one in the featured image. When the top is down, your field of vision behind you and on the sides is much better than in a closed car; there is nothing obstructing your view. That helps a lot with parallel parking. I took my driving test in that car, and I was afraid they were going to require me to put the top up, but luckily they didn’t. I aced all of it, and the examiner was particularly impressed with my parallel parking job.

My second parking story is about being on the Parking Committee at the Attorney General’s Office. The office was downtown, where parking was at a premium, and if you didn’t have a space in the 5-story parking structure attached to our building, you had to go several blocks away and pay much more. (The parking in our building was subsidized by the office.) There were many more people wanting parking spaces than there were spaces to be had, so tempers ran high when people felt they should be entitled to a spot and didn’t get one. When I was asked to represent the Civil Division on the committee, I was honored, not realizing that it was a job that could create enemies for life. The committee consisted of three people: a Civil Division lawyer, a Criminal Division lawyer, and someone from Administrative Services. In truth, I suspect the Administrative Services person had the final say, as we lawyers were interpreting the rules, but Admin could always change the rules if they wanted to.

One thing I liked about the parking list was that it was strictly by seniority. Lawyers didn’t get preference over secretaries or mailroom clerks, a spot went to the person with the earlier start date in the office (with the exception of the AG and his top assistants, who had designated parking spots). At some point we had to add a separate carpool list, and figure out how to incorporate that into the list of single parkers. My recollection is that carpools got preference, which rankled people who had been waiting a long time for a space, and then got edged out by a recently formed carpool. I no longer remember how we worked that out, but I think it took several meetings to solve the problem.

The case I remember most vividly involved Peter, who had the office next to mine and later became a good friend despite his parking problems. He had been with the AG’s Office for many years, but most of them had been in Los Angeles. He had only transferred to the Sacramento office recently, and thought his place on the seniority list should be determined by the date he had first started working. No, we replied, seniority was determined by the length of time in Sacramento. So he didn’t get a parking space. He was outraged about that, and may have sought out other people in the same position. I suspect he got the union involved to negotiate this as a “term and condition of employment,” because eventually, without even consulting the Parking Committee, the rule was changed to be total length of time in the office in any location.

Luckily I had long since gotten my own space, otherwise I might have been bumped by those out-of-towners.

Profile photo of Suzy Suzy

Characterizations: been there, funny, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    As always, Suzy, you’ve found the perfect song title title for your story, Though I admit that I had never heard of “Parking Spot” and had to google it. (In my defense, I also learned that the song was only released in 2021.) Originally, I thought you might choose Joni Mitchell’s “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot,” but then I remembered that that was only a repeating lyric; the title of the song is “Big Yellow Taxi.”

    As to your story itself, I really loved it and particularly resonated to both of its parts. With regard to the first, I, too, pride myself on my parallel parking skills. However, like penmanship (which I am terrible at), I worry that it is becoming a dying art. After all, most rear view cameras superimpose guideing lines for parking. And, though I’ve yet to drive an entirely self-parking car, that presumably takes all the skill out of it. But, again, I regard another master of this art with great respect.

    With regard to the second part, I, too, almost wrote about the perils of parking lists. When my former wife was the President of Barnard, she would confide to our friends that the most challenging part of her position was not tenure decisions or cheating scandals, but dealing with the list of faculty and administrators who could park in its coveted parking garage. Getting a spot there was the equivalent of scoring a corner office at a big corporation or law firm. And at least as contentious. As with your parking structure, “seniority” was generally the guiding principle, but determining what constituted it in a given case was often a matter of complicated interpretation. But I decided that this was really more her story to tell than mine. For my part, I simply considered our parking space to be possibly the best perk given to the President — regardless of her seniority — particularly after my years of on-street parking agita in that same neighborhood during law school, as recounted in my story.

    • Suzy says:

      Indeed, my first thought was the Joni Mitchell song, and I have enjoyed having it as an earworm the last few days, but when I typed out “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot,” in the title box, it looked really unwieldy. Plus, I like exposing my Retro readers to new songs. There is another song called “Parking Space – I Want You, A Love Song,” but it’s slightly obscene.

      Sadly, you make a good point about rear view cameras doing all the work of parallel parking. I never think to look at the camera view when I’m parking, but then again, I don’t need to. Nice to know it will be there for me when I am too old and feeble to do it on my own.

      The Barnard story would have been a good one, but you told it here in the comments, so Retro readers get to learn about it anyway. And now I have to go read your story to see what you did write about.

      • John Shutkin says:

        Wow! You don’t even use the rear view camera — I am now even more impressed!
        And I just checked out “Parking Space.” Slightly obscene is right; you could cut the double entendre with a knife. Sort of an R-rated Al Yankovic (with a Michael Bolton haircut).

  2. Khati Hendry says:

    The competition over parking spots is a real source of friction. I lived on a street where people were very protective about what they considered “their” spot, even though there were no assigned places. Certainly it is a coveted perk at work-and I suspect you are right about the fellow who solved his problem by changing the rules in his favor—congratulations on getting a space in the meantime.

    • Suzy says:

      Interesting about people claiming spaces on the street and being protective of them. I can easily imagine that happening, but then what was their recourse if someone else parked in “their” spot?

      • Khati Hendry says:

        Some people would erect ersatz traffic cones or other place savers, or leave nasty notes on windshields or come out and shoo you away—but fortunately I never ran into anyone brandishing a gun in a parking/road rage. Which seems more likely every year, at least in the US.

  3. Marian says:

    Suzy, there must be something about New Jersey and fathers teaching us to drive, because I learned parallel parking exactly as you did and am really good at it. (BTW, my mother was so neurotic and jittery that my dad wouldn’t allow her in the car with me until after I got my license!) That skill has served us well! Here in the Silicon Valley, next to no one has decent parallel parking skills, and they do a terrible job, even with all the automated help in today’s cars.

    • Suzy says:

      Mare, your comment made me so happy! I love that New Jersey connection! Although my mother wasn’t neurotic, I suspect that she never rode with me until after I got my license. In fact, I can’t remember ever getting to drive when she was in the car until she was in her 80s!

  4. Betsy Pfau says:

    Suzy, I love that you are a great parallel parker, thanks to your dad. I, too, learned basically the same way that you did, but I think without the rigor, so I am OK, but not great. I have difficulty seeing (being on the small side, as my husband learned during these past three months when he couldn’t drive and depended on me; he couldn’t believe how lousy my sight lines are). Learning and taking your test in the convertible sounds like bliss. I have blind spots everywhere.

    I confess that I have never worked anywhere that didn’t have a large parking lot (except when I worked in the city and walked to work in Boston; took the bus in Chicago), so have never encountered a priority list such as you described. It is difficult to imagine the frustration for those awaiting a parking space (for years!) and where did they park in the meantime?

    • Suzy says:

      Interesting that you never encountered parking priority lists. I do remember when I worked at the Dept. of Transportation in Cambridge, they had a huge parking lot, so no list necessary. But in most big city offices I would expect there to be more parkers than spaces available.

  5. A very impressive skill, parallel parking. I like the convertible trick, especially to pass the driving test. You are such a smarty, Suzy. And let’s hope you never get bumped for a parking space by one of those nasty out-of-towners! I loved your description of the labyrinthian parking discussions you must have had at the AG’s office. Life is complicated!

  6. Great stories Suzy, I personally use the touch method when I parallel park!
    And I see the parking lot seniority list was far from unique to our school!

    Actually the morning drive to work is part of what I miss since retiring, although I don’t miss the morning alarm clock!

  7. Laurie Levy says:

    I think every place of employment with limited parking has to come up with rules. My preschool had a small lot with a space reserved for the director, so that was a good deal for me because there were times I had to leave to attend meetings. But in the spirit of preschools, the rest was first come-first served (except for the handicapped spot). My husband was the best parallel parker ever and once got into a space with just a couple of inches on either side. Unfortunately, his method relied on lining up the hood ornament with something. Once they stopped making those, I was no longer great at it.

    • Suzy says:

      Oh yes, the old hood ornament technique. That would have been helpful, I’m sure. I learned to parallel park in a 1966 Plymouth Valiant exactly like the one in my featured image, and as you can see, it had no hood ornament.

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