Laura Donovan
January 14, 2014 9:00 am

Three weeks after getting my license, I hit a parked car in a Blockbuster (R.I.P.) parking lot.

I’d always been terrible at going in reverse, and on my way out of a tiny space, I scraped the back of a truck. Luckily the driver was in the front seat and we had a calm exchange of words, but I spent the next five years with a banged up Honda Accord, and because I lacked the $1,000 for a paint job, I drove in shame until selling it once and for all in 2010. Parking lots terrified me more than anything, even driving itself.

Almost nine years later, I still suffer from crippling anxiety at the prospect of parking my car. I remain a proud Honda owner, this time a Civic, and thankfully it’s scratch-free (minus a line above the wheel, likely from another vehicle or the car wash). Why is this Honda mostly fine while the other got some needless scratches under my watch? Because I’m more careful with age — and I regularly spend ten minutes trying to position my car perfectly between the lines in narrow spaces.

With a small car, I shouldn’t have problems sliding into compact spaces, but I’ve got the worst spacial awareness of anyone I know. It’s not unusual for me to find a space, slip out of the car to assess the situation and repeat the process 3-4 times before finally moving on with my day. In narrow parking garages, I have to leave enough space between the cars to my right and left so we don’t hit each other on the way out. On the street, I try to get as close to the sidewalk as possible to avoid being swiped by moving vehicles or ticketed by the parking patrol.

It doesn’t help that the guest parking situation at my boyfriend’s building is a disaster, and I’m not the only one who complains about it. Long story short, I got stuck between a Mercedes and a Range Rover a few months ago and thankfully the guys laughing about it from a few feet away were willing to wave me out of the dilemma — after making fun of me. If it weren’t for my car’s backup camera, I would have certainly hit another vehicle by now, but sometimes that’s not enough. I’d like side and front cameras as well, anything to keep parking drama out of my life.

Parallel parking intimidates me too, and it doesn’t help that the California DMV didn’t require it for the test in 2004 (I failed the first time, what a shock!). With Midwestern parents and a heart big enough to love the whole world, my boyfriend is as Minnesota Nice as they come, but it was quite an experience when he saw me parallel park for the first time ever.

We were late for a show at UCB and had trouble finding spaces anywhere near the theater, so when we finally found a spot in a neighborhood a few blocks away, it should have come as a relief to the both of us. The precious space was anything but a blessing, as it required me to parallel park. I warned my significant other that it would be a challenge, leading him to eventually hop out the car to direct me by hand.

Once I was safely in, I laughed and said, “Told you I’m awful at parking.”

“Yeah, you kinda are,” he replied.

Overall, my driving history is solid. In terms of accidents, I’ve only ever been in the aforementioned fender bender, which explains why I stress about parking almost every time I jump in the car. I know I’d be better at parking if I went into the experience with confidence, but my nerves go wild when I’m hauling around other people, many of whom don’t understand why I’d rather walk longer distances than park close to wherever we’re going. I could lie and say this is a good way for non-active folks like me to have some exercise, but really I’m just afraid of everything.

I’ll admit I get more worked up than necessary about parking, but I’m not the only Los Angeles resident who frets about this relatively safe aspect of driving. In 2010, Blogging LA wrote about the five worst Trader Joe’s parking areas in the city, and Eric Spiegelman recently published an article about all the places he parked in LA last year, ripping Trader Joe’s lots but also understanding just how cliché it’s become to complain about them: “Once you notice the trends, you start to believe this must be intentional, a diabolical experiment in psychology that somehow primes us to buy boxed cereal knockoffs and cashew butter. Perhaps it’s a Soviet thing, this architecture designed to control. Who is this ‘Joe?’ What is he trading? Sadly, you’ll never even get to ask, because you’re too busy fighting your fellow man for a place to leave your car.”

It’s no secret that driving in LA is a soul-sucking experience, but in my world, nothing tops the agony of parking, and that goes for anywhere, not just the city of so-called angels. Whether you know me in real life or just online, I can promise you wouldn’t like me anymore if you saw me try to park. But hey, I hear being unlikable is in these days, so maybe I’ll be OK after all.

Do you get stressed out about parking? Share in the comments section.

Image via ShutterStock

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