By Charlie Sacchetti
In the summer of 1996, my wife, Luann, and I prepared for one of the most stressful events any parent has to endure. Our daughter, Rosanne, had reached the age that the state of New Jersey believed was appropriate to offer her a driver’s permit. As far as I was concerned, I would have preferred that day to be about 10 years down the road, but Rosie would have none of that. Having been genetically “blessed” with both impatience and persistence, she felt that she could surely outlast us. Naturally, she was right, and we enrolled her in a local driving school for a six-week course. I must say that she did remarkably well, as far as actual driving was concerned. Her problem was the same as many New Jersey kids: the inability to parallel park.
For guys like me who grew up in Philadelphia, parallel parking was a skill handed down from generation to generation. You had to learn to park in the city because very few people had driveways and garages. It’s just the opposite where we live in Jersey. Hardly anyone needs to parallel park, in tight spots, because almost every home has a driveway or garage. Rosie just couldn’t get the hang of it. If she didn’t turn the wheel the wrong way, then she made some other mistake, like end up two feet from the curb. When the day came for her to go with her teacher to take the driving test, the results were unfortunately predictable: Flunksville. The reason? “Inability to parallel park.”
Somewhat depressed, Rosie elicited her mom’s assistance to smooth out the rough spots in her parking technique. The only problem was that Luann is also a product of New Jersey, so she can’t parallel park either. Therefore, her sincere two weeks of work with Rosie were to no avail. It seemed highly likely that Rosie was headed for trouble when her September retest date arrived.
It became apparent that I was Rosie’s last, best chance. My family always marveled at my ability to back into the tightest of spaces when we would visit relatives in Philly. I always considered parallel parking to be akin to twirling spaghetti with a fork and spoon. It might be hard to master, but once you do, you never forget. Although I was Rosie’s second choice in the teacher pecking order, she knew that she needed help. Time was wasting. So I gathered up four milk crates, and we drove to a nearby street in an industrial park to set up the “practice field,” so to speak. I had driven to the local testing center and measured the rectangular parallel parking test area. I set up the crates to spec, placing two of them alongside the actual curb and the other two further out, forming the allowable parking zone. I sat in the car with Rosie and explained the parking technique that had served me well on so many of those city streets. She listened attentively, and then it was time to put all of my sage instruction into action. She pulled up alongside the imaginary test area and started to back up.
She had turned the wheel the wrong way, and her right front tire smashed the left front milk crate. Undaunted, we tried once more.
She backed in OK but jumped the curb after scraping the sidewall. Several more sessions proved fruitless and, the next thing we knew, the day of the test had arrived.
While driving Rosie to the testing facility, I felt it was time for a reality check. I said, “Ro, let’s face it: There is no way you can pass the parking part of this test. What I think you should do is say a prayer, and ask God to let your guardian angel take over the wheel when you park. That’s your only shot.”
I also found out that Luann had placed a small statue of the Blessed Mother on the back seat, wrapped in a towel. This brought the concept of the “backseat driver” to a new level.
When we arrived, we were greeted by the guy who would administer the test. He looked like he didn’t want to be there. I noticed that he was wearing a Yankees cap, so I tried to loosen him up by talking a little baseball and mentioning how much I admired Derek Jeter. No reaction. As I was walking toward the sidewalk, I looked over my shoulder to see Rosie pull away for the driving part of the exam. No problem, she handled the car beautifully. Now it was time to park. The suspense was killing me. I stood behind a large bush and, through squinting eyes, watched as my little girl parked the car with only one backup, stopping six inches from the curb. Perfect.
You might say that it was just luck or that the law of averages came into play. But, as far as Rosie and I are concerned, we know who really parked the car that day. IAH
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