My Turn: For compact cars only

For the Monitor
Published: 10/3/2021 11:00:04 AM

Do you ever pay heed to those signs prominently posted in some parking garages that say, “compact cars only?” I haven’t either. If I finally spy a vacant spot after wending my way to the sixth floor of the garage and I can somehow maneuver my mid-sized sedan into it, then my mid-sized sedan qualifies as a compact car.

Now, my mid-sized sedan might express concern. It might emit a slow series of beeps, as if to say, “Hey, Ben, this spot seems a little snug. Just be careful, okay?” Then, as I whip the steering wheel to and fro while furrowing my brow and squinting (furrowing one’s brow and squinting may not be required for basic parking, but when you find yourself performing an advanced parking exercise, doing both is absolutely essential), the beeps might escalate from measured to manic.

My car and I shared this experience, yet again, at a parking garage in Bridgeport, Connecticut recently. “Beep! Beep!” my car shrieked at me frantically as I gently guided it into a space that accommodated it the way pants with a 38-inch waist accommodate the waist of a man who will not admit that his waist truly measures 40 inches.

Still, I could open my driver’s side door and disembark my vehicle without crashing into my neighbor to my left. I could open my rear passenger door and retrieve my duffel bag without crashing into my neighbor to my right. By these measures, my parking exercise constituted an unmitigated success, my car’s protests notwithstanding.

Before I parted ways with my car for the night, I stood behind it to admire the parking feat I had accomplished. “Why do you get so nervous?” I asked my car (not really but indulge me). “We’ve been together nearly five years! We’ve been in dozens of parking garages! I haven’t run you into anything in a parking garage yet! I know, there was that time when you were three weeks old when I forgot to shut you off because you have that darned push-button ignition rather than the keyed ignition I was used to, and you rolled down a hill and crashed into two other cars. But that was a long time ago! And, more importantly, that didn’t happen in a parking garage!”

I ventured off into the Bridgeport night, not giving my car another thought until we reunited the following morning, at which point it occurred to me that it might not have been fear of me that had inspired my car’s frenzied beeping when I had parked it in that tight space. It might have been fear of others.

“Did a ghost park this car?” I marveled as I surveyed the vehicle that now occupied the space next to my driver’s side, a different vehicle than the one that had been there the night before. How could anything but a formless spirit have parked the car that now sat alongside mine, backed in so that its driver’s side door faced my driver’s side door, with barely space for a hair between them?

I peered down the length of my driver’s side, searching for the inevitable damage. Nobody could have parked this close to me without smashing a door into my helpless mid-sized sedan that had done its best to warn me of the peril to which I had subjected it by refusing to recognize that it is not, and never will be, a compact car. Yet not a mark defiled my car.

I could only surmise that the person who managed this parking feat, far more admirable than any parking feat in my history, had exited his (or her) car the way I was about to enter mine. Through the passenger door.

We’ve all seen the scene in the movies where the hero leaps off a vehicle traveling 90 mph to hurl himself into the passenger side of another vehicle driven by the villain. The hero then ejects the villain from the vehicle and assumes his position in the driver’s seat. I’m here to tell you that this is a lot harder than it looks in the movies, even if you don’t have to leap from a speeding vehicle or eject a villain from the driver’s seat.

I opened the passenger side door and seated myself. So far so good. Then I took a deep breath and flung my upper body over the console into the driver’s seat. I did not execute this maneuver as effortlessly as the above-mentioned action hero. A knifing pain shot through my right side as my legs splayed awkwardly. My left leg came to rest in its intended position on the driver’s side floor, but my right leg remained mostly on the other side of the car, having apparently decided not to make the hurdle just yet.

“Goodness!” I exclaimed (where “goodness” is the understudy for the real word unable to appear here just now),“I hope I didn’t break something.”

If I had broken something, I might still be there. The Bridgeport parking garage is one of those garages where the cars are packed in like sardines, yet there never seems to be a soul in sight, lending further support to my theory of the ghost driver.

But the knifing pain proved only to be a cramp and soon I motored along I-91, beginning the journey home.

I might not be so cavalier, though, when next I stare down a sign declaring that the space in which I plan to park is for “compact cars only.” I might pause if that beeping morphs from measured to manic because I really have no desire to improve my skills at plunking myself into the driver’s seat from an entry point on the passenger’s side. But I fear I will have to tempt fate. When did you last see a parking garage sign purporting to reserve a space for mid-sized cars only?

(Benjamin T. King, a partner at Douglas, Leonard & Garvey, P.C, lives in Concord.)

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