Small town amusements

This is terribly petty of me, but it’s something that always makes me laugh: watching someone in a pickup truck try to parallel park in downtown Morris. You have to understand that traffic is low, there’s always lots of open parking spots, so it’s a skill that doesn’t get exercised much out here. When someone tries it, hilarity ensues. It does snarl up the traffic something fierce — why, there were maybe four or five cars backed up, waiting for this fellow to quit jockeying back and forth and in and out of the lane — and the expressions of frustration in the driver and onlookers are something to see.

Having spent a few years commuting in an urban environment, you learn to slide into a narrow parking space fairly efficiently; also, this was in Philadelphia, where many practice either the ping-pong method (bouncing off the bumpers of the cars in front and back of you until you settle against the curb) or the hell-with-it method, where you just stop in the traffic lane and double-park while running your errands. Little towns are a little different.


  1. Henry Clay says

    My hometown in KY has about 3,000 folks in it. Much like your place, PZ, there isn’t a lot of need for parallel parking. For our driving test we had to parallel park behind one car, and no curb. An elderly lady lived down the street from the courthouse and never drove anywhere. Her car was parked in a wide gravel shoulder next to the road. Needless to say that part of the test wasn’t that hard to pass.

  2. Chet says

    Another Morris favorite is the “block both lanes of traffic on Atlantic Avenue as you and a buddy shoot the shit from the driver’s seat of both of your big trucks.”

  3. says

    It’s safe to say that the “ping-pong method” would probably get somebody shot if they tried it in my little hometown of 550.

  4. Kagehi says

    Where I am living isn’t little, but apparently people don’t comprehend double yellow lines and one side of the street has slanted parking slots. Needless to say, some nitwit is always ignoring common sense, and instead of going around the block to approach it from the right direction, then make illegal U-turns… This of course screws up traffic in both directions.

  5. says

    I lived in Chicago for three years in a flat that didn’t come with a parking space or garage. I learned to get my car into spaces with only inches to spare. Sometimes, I would get out of my car and be astonished that I had managed to get the car into that spot. Unfortunately, then I had to contemplate whether I would be able to get it out again.

    Now that I live in what is, inessence, suburbia, my parallel parking skills have atrophied considerably, as I discover any time I take a drive into Manhattan.

  6. says

    I had one of the best parallel parking teachers ever! I am pretty good at it even if I haven’t used that skill regularly. However, trucks in general have terrible turning radii, and are a bear to park. I feel for the poor sap!

  7. valhar2000 says

    You guys should come live in Spain. Since american style sububrs are practically non-existent all spanish drivewrs have to parallel park regularly.

    We also drive (generally) smaller cars; thus, I have quite a bit of experience driving my big american car through spaces built for smaller cars, and I impress my american relatives with by ability to squeeze through small spaces whenever I drive them around.

  8. Rey Fox says

    What was even funnier was watchingsomeone try to back a semi-truck block four lanes of traffic near where I live trying make a delivery into the alley behind an unfinished furniture store in a mostly residential area.

  9. Evan says

    I drive an F150 extended cab; 18.5′ bumper to bumper, and I manage to get it into some remarkably tight spots (no off street parking in a crowded student neighborhood and you learn fast).

    Thank god (or whowever) for power steering, though.

  10. says

    I drive a pickup with a manual transmission, and I used to live in a hilly neighborhood in San Diego. I got very good at parallel parking; it’s almost too easy to do it when you’re not on a 10% grade!

  11. K says

    I haven’t parallel parked since the driving test, 24 years ago. I believe I flunked it on the test too because it’s just not something I ever had to do (and it wasn’t my car, I didn’t have a car, the only driving experience I had was the test). I’m certain I couldn’t parallel park to save my life but that’s why I have a truck. I can drive over the curb and create my own parking spot anywhere.

  12. no1uno says

    Ah, the pingpong method. Reminds me of when I lived in a neighborhood in college consisting of very narrow, but deep and tall houses. No garages/driveways. Maybe 8-10 students (with cars) per house; parking on one side of the street. I remember many times driving for half hour and seeing a car with half a space in front and behind it… lets just say I’ve always felt bumpers were meant to be used.

  13. MAJeff says

    Another Morris favorite is the “block both lanes of traffic on Atlantic Avenue as you and a buddy shoot the shit from the driver’s seat of both of your big trucks.”

    That seems to be popular where my parents live, too (Nicolllet, MN).

    Living in Boston (when I used to have a car) taught me how to get in some pretty tight spaces. Never needed the same skills in some place like Mankato, but give me 4-6″ on both sides of the car, and I’m in there.

  14. Heather S says

    I know what you mean because I live in a relatively small town and never have to parallel park. I was just in NYC for the past week and I saw some cars parked like sardines, wondering how they ever get out! One car was just a mere inch from the other persons bumper.

  15. Tony Popple says

    I grew up in a small farm community of about a 1000 people, so I know what you are talking about.

    Still, the most interesting example of parallel parking has to be in Ireland. They pull across the lane of on-coming traffic and drive up onto the sidewalk on the other side of the street.

  16. Michael Kremer says

    I have a friend here in Chicago who calls the ping-pong method the “Braille method”.

    She also reports that she knows someone who claims to be able to park a car in a space smaller than the length of the car by using this method. (You can figure that out.)

  17. Michael says

    My wife’s new all-the-bells-and-whistles Honda CR-V has a rear TV camera that displays the space behind you on the navigation screen when you put it in reverse. It makes parallel parking trivially easy.

  18. says

    I miss my big stupid minivan – the 1990 Dodge Grand Caravan (SE), more than 5 m long, had a turning radius wider than several models of tow-trucks I’ve observed. I never failed to parallel park it the few times I ventured into Downtown Vancouver in it, and I’m quite proud of that, considering the vastness of the blind spots and the frailty (and expense) of the average neighbouring car. No ping-pong or braille necessary, just Yoda-like perception of one’s own dimensions.

    Local driving entertainment in Vancouver is watching the locals when it snows. Watching a $100 000 Lexus go through a major intersection sideways is always fun.

  19. Shoeguy says

    Ping Pong! In the era of six hundred dollar taillight assemblies that’s a non starter.
    Natural selection will sort out the unable to parallel park. They will be driven to malls with vast easy parking. At the Mall they will feed on burgers, pizza, and Orange Julius then become unable to reproduce. Ultimately they will die from cranial atrophy.

  20. David Livesay says

    Ironically, pickup trucks are about the easiest things to parallel park, right after station wagons. The visibility is great, and you can tell exactly where all four corners of the vehicle are. I’m thinking this was somebody who doesn’t go to town much.

  21. Rey Fox says

    Also: What exactly does a $600 taillight assembly look like, and why have one?

    And now that I think about it, what makes you think that the mall people are having a hard time reproducing?

  22. blf says

    Here in France it is common to leave the parking brake off so as to make “ping-pong” parking easier: You can push the other car a bit and create a slightly bigger spot. (Before giving up my car, I found this most useful for creating a spot I could get out of, nominally (I presume) after someone else had done the same to park and shoved another car and mine together.)

    Of course, this also means more creative things are possible. Such as stuffing two cars into a slot presumably intended for one. And not necessarily parallel: The best example I ever saw of this was in a carpark with diagonal lines. The car already in the slot was just pushed up onto the walkway (sidewalk). The pusher (not sure it this was a ping or a pong) left his handbrake off so that the pushee, if she or he returned first, could “return” the favour and leave…

  23. Zuckerfrosch says

    In Germany, if you’re trying to park in a small space people will stop what they’re doing to watch you. I’ve literally been walking down the street, and saw over a dozen people stopped in their tracks watching someone else park. I think it’s a more popular spectator sport than soccer.

  24. Kenneth Mareld says

    I live in Kent, WA. A town with few redeeming features other than close to school and work. It’s too big for rural or suburban, and not really urban. Kind of like Downey near LA.
    You can’t parallel park in this town, ’cause you can’t park on the street in this town. There is nearly zero street parking allowed, even in residential areas. I think the city council must have interpreted one of the ten commandments as “Thou shalt not park here”. Or maybe a new testament parable “Cast your nets upon the water, not your filthy car upon the street”. I don’t know.
    The worst city for parallel parking on the west coast is San Francisco. On a trip there, there the only spot near the friend’s and my destination was very tight. He bet that he would kiss my ass if I could get into that space. It was tight, thank the FSM for power steering. I still wound up in a sweat. I parked the car, the standard three inches from the curb and we stepped out and measured.
    One inch in front and four inches in the back. Nevertheless, although it was San Francisco, he didn’t kiss my ass.
    I leave you with KPFK’s (LA radio) ‘Car Talk’ sign off line.

    “Drive with you eyes open, and don’t park by ear.”


  25. says

    When I moved from Moorhead, MN to San Francisco, I had a 73 Ford pickup with no power steering, a 3 speed transmission and an 8′ bed. I learned to parallel park in tight spaces on steep hills, sweating the whole time.


  26. says

    Hey, I grew up in Kent! My old homes can be found right downtown: one nice old house was located at the corner of 2nd and Titus, and is now a church parking lot, while my grandmother’s house was on Railroad Ave., and is now a 7-11 parking lot. My maternal grandparents’ house still stands (recognizable by the giant monkey puzzle tree in the front yard), but I expect it will have turned into a parking lot next time I visit.

    “Parking” and my hometown conjure up strange associations, I’m afraid.

  27. says

    “Parking” and my hometown conjure up strange associations, I’m afraid.

    Posted by: PZ Myers | April 4, 2007 06:34 PM

    I wouldn’t elaborate too much if the missus reads your blog.

  28. infamous says

    The “ping pong” method actually works quite well… you just end up with some dented license plates. Usually people won’t notice they have a dented license plate and you can get away with it (especially at night).

  29. says

    We call that “acoustic parking”–much more elegant than Ping Pong. The major practitioners are those guys who keep your car keys so that they can move your car around in a crowded city lot to let other people out until a formal spot becomes open.

  30. Carlie says

    It does seem to be a use it or lose it skill. When I was finishing grad school and too cheap to buy a parking pass on campus, I got very good at sliding into tight spaces on the street with the perfect back in with a sigmoid curve and pull slightly forward move. Now, I couldn’t do it if I tried.

  31. Keanus says

    Parallel parking brings out the fact that a significant portion of drivers have no idea where the four corners of their car/truck are, especially those on the passenger side. As a volunteer escort at the local Planned Parenthood, I guide patients (or their companions) into nose-in parking spots and something like a third or maybe half are clueless as to where their vehicle’s extremities are.

  32. Shoeguy says

    Hey Rey.
    What do you drive that doesn’t have a $600 tail light assembly (dealer part and installation).
    As far as my Mall comment goes…As we said in the South “F%#k ’em if they can’t take a joke.”

  33. says

    Your town must be a lot bigger than mine. We have 2 traffic lights and 5 parallel spots, all of which can simply be pulled into. We do have 4 dollar-type stores though!

  34. Rey Fox says

    I have a ’95 Honda Civic, and I actually haven’t the slightest clue what the tail light assembly is valued at. The phrase “$600 tail light assembly” sounded like some sort of aftermarket car-pimping to me, but maybe it is just the norm.

  35. says

    Parallel parking is not a skill, it’s a technique that can be taught, and does not involve hitting anything more than your brake pedal. My dad taught me, and I’ve never had a problem parallel parking, even when I needed to do a quick parallel park in La Grange, IL after more than a decade of non-parallel parking.

  36. says

    (waves) So you did time in Philly? From your description, do I gather that you’ve made the acquaintance of what I like to call the “South Philly School of Creative Parking”? I swear it’s not nearly as bad north of Market. Well, mostly, anyway.

    For non-Philadelphians, people park in the median on the main north-south drag aka South Broad Street. As for what PZ was calling the “hell with it” method, either he’s never been on Wolf Street, or he’s being generous. On some South Philly streets, they double park long term, and on Wolf Street, they don’t bother being neat about it.

  37. j says

    San Francisco with a manual transmission. Thankfully, the car was small and worth about half a month’s rent.

    The important difference with urban parking is that there is almost nowhere to park. If you don’t want to spend an hour looking for a spot every time you drive, you have to take traffic laws as general guidelines, and you constantly try to defy the laws of physics.

    There are spots that are only accessible with some ping-pong, and you are a fool not to take them. After all, that is why the designer made cars with bumpers.

  38. G. Tingey says

    Here in London, it’s MUCH more fun!

    If some idiot parallel-parks on a bus route, there’ll be a WHOLE BUS-LOAD of passengers ready to swaer blind in court that the moron parked badly in front of the bus, and ran into it, whilst doing so!
    Ditto twats going the wrong way up one-way-streets (we’ve got LOTS of those!)

    As for my self, I drive a lomg-wheelbase Land-Rover, 2.1 tonnes of car, with a steel girder as front bumper, and ditto at the back, plus humungous towing-ball. I have to be very careful parking, but then, I seem to have this extra space around me, when I do have to drive in town – I live near the edge of the built-up area, and I usually take the train into the city, and the car to the country …..

  39. steve cuthbertson says

    Watching parallel parking outside our store in the UK can be entertaining. We have a set of score-cards, such as you see in amatuer sporting events (9.6,4.2,7.5 gives you an idea) that we use to score particularly entertaining parking. Large car small space will get significantly better scores that small car large space. Small cars going backwards and forwards many times to get into a large space are the most amusing, as are large cars driven by people who think that the car is shorter than it really is – we keep a notepad for non-reported collision/drive-away incidents with a note of involved license plates (and a score for entertainment based on damage caused…)
    I think I need a different life…

  40. says

    North Broad is exactly the same. On those days when I drove in to Temple (I usually took mass transit), I’d always find the right lane was completely impassable because of the ranks of cars parked in it.

  41. Sylvanite says

    North Broad? Try Manayunk! Several of the streets are two-way, with parking on both sides of the street, thus reducing the two-way street to a single lane. Plus steep grades. My favorite memory is of a semi that ignored the signs that all truck traffic must go up Leverington Ave. The driver chose to take it up Green Lane (9% grade) and got the truck stuck in the switchbacks. High-larious!

    Also very enjoyable are the people who live on the several 6-foot wide streets that just park their cars at the end of said street. Forget about actually driving down that street.

  42. says

    I guess we now have a new metric for what constitutes a small town: “four or five cars backed up” constitutes “snarl[ing] up the traffic something fierce”. Around here (metro DC area), that doesn’t even register above the background noise.

  43. says

    In San Diego, I learned how to parallel park at my university, UCSD, where parking was at a premium and one frequently had to parallel park off campus on Nobel Dr. or something like that.

    It’s come in handy at my new place which happens to be mere blocks from the entrance of Memorial Stadium, and many football fans park on the street in front of my apartment and walk the distance rather than pay the extraordinary fees my university charges and walk even farther. One day, after having stupidly gone out for groceries not knowing what day it was, I had the choice of parking in a spot with about twelve inches of extra space or finding some place several blocks away from my apartment and going back again and again to get all the groceries from the car.

    It was no choice at all.

    I pulled back, a family who was walking up to the stadium watched me, and in one move pulled in perfectly between the two parked cars.

    I’m sure it would have netted at least a 9 average score if I were outside Steve Cuthbertson’s store. :-D

  44. says

    PZ: People do not park in the median of North Broad with anything close to the frequency that they do on South Broad. The only time the median of South Broad has been empty since I’ve been living in Philly (admittedly only about 11 years) was one miserable winter when the city decided to actually enforce the Snow Route regulations and started ticketing cars that didn’t move. I think it would’ve been funnier to just have the plows shove them out of the way, but they may have been worried about damaging the plows. And I stand by my conviction that the residents of Wolf Street are the worst parkers in the country, much less the city. BTW, a former Inquirer columnist conducted an experiment with parking in the Broad Street median. His car sat for days in the median of South Broad without attracting attention. When he tried it on North Broad, he got ticketed in short order.

    Sylvanite: A semi? Up Green Lane. Man, I wish I could’ve seen that. I’ve driven up Green Lane. You didn’t mention just how narrow it is.

    Apropos of not much, when I was a student at Washington U. in St. Louis, I spent a year in an on-campus apartment. These came with their own parking permits. The parking spaces were wide enough that with a bit of effort three cars could fit into two spaces. It was fascinating to watch the number of cars in the lot gradually increase with many people parking illegally until the residents sicced the Kampus Keystones on them. Then parking lot population would drop as only people with permits parked there. Eventually, over the course of about two weeks, the density of cars would increase until the cycle began anew with another round of tickets.