I came thisclose to hitting a parked sedan today.
I was coming home from a lovely dim sum lunch with Adam Roberts and Zach Brooks at Sea Harbour in Rosemead. Knowing my own parking disability, I got to the restaurant early and chose a nice spot in a far corner of the lot. (I am amazed at SoCal people’s insistence on parking next to the entrance. The furthest spot in the biggest parking lot is still a fraction of the distance I walked from my apartment to the subway several times a day.) Maybe it was those MSG-spiked, fried chicken knees, or maybe it was the last round of delicately sugared milk custard buns that lulled me into complacency, but I decided to brave the 99 Ranch parking lot and pick up some apples for my mom.
For those of you who are not familiar, 99 Ranch is a chain of Chinese supermarkets in strip malls all over California. It is to Asians what Trader Joe’s is to hipster yuppies. Their old slogan, the one they used to print on their plastic bags, was “For 100 We Try Harder,” which is A. The greatest slogan ever and B. Just a beautiful Matryoshka doll of a phrase that keeps giving as you unpack it. The 99 Ranch by my house is one of the originals, and in the 20+ years since it opened, it’s been a busy, busy hub for Asians who like black grapes the size of golf balls, snacky buns made with red bean, and fresh fish killed and fried to order.
Speaking of Trader Joe’s, the 99 Ranch parking lot is also a clusterfuck. I’m pretty sure the spaces they have are the most narrow you can legally make parking spaces before everyone laughs at you for painting zebra stripes on your pavement. And people drive crazy around there. The freeway exit is nearby, and patrons have no problem blocking three lanes of traffic in order to get in line to make that left turn into the shopping center. Right now, there’s a lot of construction going on, and they’ve got Gale Ave. divided with those bright orange plastic poles to keep people in line in two lanes going opposite directions. When you exit the parking lot, there’s a very clear no left turn sign, which about 80% of people blithely ignore while running over and flattening the orange poles. Seriously, half the poles on Gale look like they were mowed down in a monster truck obstacle course.
Anyhoo, I decide I’m going to practice my perpendicular parking in this, the black diamond slope of strip mall parking lots. I find a spot in the back of the lot between two cars. I try going wide and getting in the space. I open my door and look out. Looks okay, but maybe I should back out and try again. I open the door again and look out. Hm, this is not looking good, and I’m a little too close to the black sedan next to me. Back up and try again. Oof, am I getting closer to the car on the left?
In my nervous backing up and inching forward, 12 inches of distance becomes 5, which then becomes 4, and 2, until finally, oh SHIT I am ONE INCH from the car on my left. Literally one inch. You might be able to thread the DMV drivers’ manual through the gap that separates us but not a double-disc set of La Traviata. Follie! Follie delirio vano è questo! I am sweating so hard that the back of my silk shirt is soaked. It’s 90 degrees out. I turn off the goddamn radio and turn on the hazards.
Some people walk by and stare at me, my big silver CR-V rump sticking out of a tiny space. I can see that they’re curious about whether or not I’ve hit the car, but they don’t dare ask or offer help.
I imagine the conversation I’m going to have when the owner of the Acura arrives. I’ll cut him (her?) off before he can panic. I’ll tell him that I haven’t hit his car yet, not to worry, but I can’t back out this way. And would he be so very kind as to move forward just a few inches so I can back out of the space? I would be so grateful, and he has such a luxurious expanse of space in front of his car, and then I’ll be out of his way, and we never have to see each other again.
What do I do if he doesn’t speak English? I’ll gesture as best I can. I haven’t hit you, you see? I will speak in apologetic tones. I will put my hands together in prayer and plead with my eyes for understanding. Hand gesture for forward. Thumb and index together for a little. Prayer hands for thank you very much.
And then I do the only thing I can think to do — I call my parents and ask them to come down to 99. They both answer the phone and tell me they’re on their way.
A man walks slowly towards me as he surveys the scene.
“Is this your car?” I ask.
He shakes his head no and points to the friendly little white car on my other side, the side with an ocean of room.
“Did you hit the car already?” he asks.
“No, I didn’t. But I’m really close.”
He comes closer and enters the pool of shame radiating around me. He looks at that little bit of space, the rigid inch that separates me from a low insurance premium and cardiac arrest.
“You turned too early,” he says, examining. “You just straighten your wheel and then you can move forward.”
“I can’t. I’m too close. I’m just going to wait until the owner of the car comes.”
Suddenly, my dad materializes at the passenger’s side door. The cavalry is here! He tries the door and gestures for me to unlock it. I do. I really have no idea how we are going to get out of this.
“Your daughter?” the guy asks my dad.
“Yes,” my Pau says. “Get out this way,” he says to me.
I ramble an apology, push the driver’s seat as far back as it will go, put my shoes on and climb out the passenger’s side.
My dad gets in. I try to tell him that there’s only one inch of space on my side. The observer stands there and watches with great interest from his prime spot at the front of the space. My mom parks the car they drove over and says not to worry, she’s done it too! It’s no problem, she says in Thai as she pats me on the arm.
And then I watch my dad make a few mental calculations, turn the wheel, and back smoothly out of the space, as if the car were just a little raw chicken slathered in butter. The observer says, “You got it,” which my dad clearly knows he does.
And like that, the car is out. Pau makes me watch as he parks into another space, lecturing about how to make a wide, round right before pulling into the slot. He backs up a few inches to demonstrate how to get a more secure angle. My mom sends him home in my car and we go into the store to buy her fruit.
I moved back here thinking I would be helping my parents, and I think I am, but, man, it is nice to have help from them when I need it.
Lessons I learned today:
1. You’re never too old to be bailed out by your parents.
2. I’m not fucking perpendicular parking unless I’ve got an open space on either side of me. I would rather walk a mile than to have to go through that again.
3. I’m buying apples from Vons next time.
UPDATE: Because sometimes you need a visual aide.