Posted by: GeekHiker | November 14, 2007

The Simple Act of Parking

Today in LA was warm and sunny, with a brilliantly blue sky overhead and clear, so clear that the mountains and ocean could be seen from everywhere. All of this courtesy of a mild Santa Ana wind that, hopefully, won’t lead to any more fires.

I knew driving into work today that I would head out at lunch and buy some kind of cool iced coffee drink and sit outside to enjoy the day. So, of course, one of the lines to the fax server decided to die.

After learning that it had been dead since sometime yesterday and that no one had bothered to tell me, I figured my calling the phone company to test the line (after the requisite 47 transfers to get to the right tech) could wait until after lunch. After last week’s gray, nothing was going to stop me from getting some Vitamin D today.

Sitting in my chair in the shade enjoying my too-large drink (gads, I’m going to have to spend an hour on the treadmill to work off that one), I read the print version of The Onion for a while, then sat back to people watch.

The busy intersection in front of me seemed to be filled with especially inpatient people today. A moment’s hesitation after the light turned green would elicit a prompt “beep” from the car behind. My favorite was one car who impatiently honked several times while the car in front of him had the gall to wait for a pedestrian to pass.

I mean, sheesh, didn’t he know the guy honking was in a hurry?

Across the street I watched as a car pulled up to the curb, letting off a passenger. The elderly woman then waited as the driver, evidently her husband, attempted to back the car next to the curb, but nearly steered into traffic instead eliciting, you guessed it, more honking.

For the next several minutes I watched as she attempted to direct her husband into the space. He was clearly confused the whole time, moving in jerky stops-and-starts and steering the wheel the wrong way, even gently tapping the car behind despite her screaming “stop!” as loudly as she could.

At one point, exasperated, she threw up her hands in the air and threatened to walk away, but didn’t. Of course she didn’t: she had to help her husband park.

During the whole series of events I watched a group of teenagers laughing at the whole thing. I’d love to say that I wouldn’t have done the same thing at their age, but I was young and stupid and seventeen and I’ll-never-be-old-like-that at one point in my life, so maybe I would have.

Then again, maybe I wouldn’t: the day that I went down to take my driver’s test my Dad had us give his father a ride to the DMV as well to pick up his ID card. My grandfather was having his driver’s license taken away and replaced with that ID card the same day I was earning my privilege to drive. I saw the irony of that right away; Dad didn’t realize it until years later, but I’ve come to realize it’s because he was too close to what was happening at the moment, taking away his father’s ability to drive legally, to see it.

At work one of the salesmen is also losing his driving skills; I even helped him park in the garage once and experienced the same frustration as he nearly backed his car into the posts or other cars a dozen times. It’s a wonder that something worse (knock-on-wood) hasn’t happened yet. I don’t blame him, of course, since he knows he can drive (he’s been doing it for decades, after all), but I do blame his family to a large degree. It’s not an easy thing to do, to take away that privilege from someone, but sometimes it has to be done.

Few, it seems, are like my Great Aunt who, after a minor fender bender with a truck, decided that it was time to stop driving. She sold the car and started taking taxies everywhere, and it couldn’t have been easier on all involved.

I wonder, of course, how things will go when that day comes for my parents. Will they remember how things went with their own parents? How difficult it was, how much a fight their parents put up to being told that something they’d been doing for 50 years they suddenly couldn’t do anymore? Or will they not remember, and put up a fight of their own?

How will I react when the time comes for me?

For the time being, of course, I can still drive and park a car. And with a little help from his wife, so could the man I saw today. Of course she stayed to help him park: he’s her husband and she loves him, and all the frustration she was going through was still easier than the idea of not letting him drive, I’m sure.

Still, hopefully she will take the keys away before something terrible happens (not that I’m saying it will, but it could). And hopefully, he’ll understand why.

Actually, we should all be that lucky.



  1. One grandma didn’t drive and the other quit before I was born. The grandpa I remember the most drove too long but finally stopped of his own accord when he nearly killed a cat.

    He loved cats.

  2. My Grandma had some driving issues as well. The family joke was when she would go to the garage one of us has to call ahead and clear the roads.

    I just hope I have the wisdom to know when to hang up the keys.

  3. Driving rights is a touchy subject for old folks. Giving up their driving priviliges boils down to loosing a large piece of their independence. Of course, if you live in a large city, you can still get around without a car. If you live in a spread-out city (like Atlanta), it’s harder to get around.

    I believe there should be mandatory driver testing every couple years once you reach a certain age. I know my family will have the balls to tell me when it’s time to call it quits.

  4. Still… old people are usually less terrifying behind the wheel than teenagers. Old people tend to be easy on the accelerator, slow to react, and prone to bump into things… such as other cars.
    Teenagers are reckless, text message while driving, and haven’t yet had enough close-calls to scare them into slowing down and paying attention.
    I can see Granny coming when she’s weaving all over the road at 20 MPH and get outta her way, but not a crazy teenager crossing the double yellow line going 80.
    I feel so sad for old people who start to lose their abilities. It must be hard to admit that one is no longer capable of doing something they’ve done so easily for 60 years, such as handling a vehicle. I bet it’s a scary and sad feeling.

  5. Over here, from 70 and up, there are mandatory medical exams each two years. However, elders’ driving skills are not examined as they are supposed to “know how” (even though parking gets tricky).

    Depending on where you live, it’s really hard to learn that you cannot drive anymore.

  6. I felt a little sad reading of the day your grandpa had to give up his liscense… and on the same day he saw you almost being given your youth, here he was, having his taken away! It must be such a difficult thing to let go of the keys when you’re elderly… more symbolic of letting go of everything you were once, able to do.

  7. just a girl – That was very cool of your grandfather!

    Homer-Dog – I hope I have that wisdom too, but I suspect sometimes I might be a stubborn old coot.

    Aaron – I can’t imagine what it must be like to be older and unable to drive in a city like LA. It’s one reason I’d hate to retire here.

    Charlotte – Sadly, it’s not always true, such as the older gentleman who drove at full speed through the Santa Monica farmers market a few years back. In my experience they aren’t scared and sad, they’re quite angry that their child is taking away their license.

    Gany – Sometimes I think that sort of qualification would be good for everyone!

    A Life Uncommon – It was such a weird twist on what should have been a great day: getting my drivers license. I remember it well; maybe I’ll write up the experience at some point…

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