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Rules of the Road

April 21, 2011

I have a lot of talents. I can learn almost anything, which contributed to my 4.0 GPA in college. I can out eat most men, and I’m sure that I’d place in an ice cream eating contest. I’m a great organizer, meticulous to the point of annoying. My to-do lists are a thing of true beauty. I can tell you from memory the calories in almost anything. And, importantly, I can compare almost any situation to an episode of Felicity or Sex and the City. Not only that, but I can spend a whole weekend in my pajamas watching bad television without even batting an eye. Not bragging here, but I certainly have my unique talents.   

Driving, however, is not one them.

Okay, let me say this a little clearer: I’m a terrible driver. There, I said it. It feels better to put it out there. The first step is admitting you have a problem, right?

Maybe a little history will help demonstrate just how bad of a driver I am.

Picture it: Sicily, 2002. Okay, not Sicily, Newport News. I’m 17 years old, driving my father’s 1989 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. It looks a lot like this.

Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, car, 1989

I’m driving to work, my telemarketing job at MCI where I made a ridiculous amount of money selling what, at that time, was revolutionary: unlimited local and long distance phone service for the ultra-low price of $49.99 (plus applicable taxes and surcharges). Amazing, I know.

I’m singing like it’s my job to Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now.” And you know the amazing part, where she sings the word “now” for like 20 seconds? Well, I was singing it almost better than Celine herself. I threw my head back, ready for the grand finale, and … rear-ended a minivan.

Not just any minivan. A minivan full of children returning from soccer practice. Including one who immediately began complaining that his neck hurt. Awesome. I completely wrecked my dad’s car and I have never seen him so angry.

You would think I learned my lesson there. What lesson? No, not that you should pay attention while driving. The real lesson was that Celine Dion classics and Catherine don’t mix.

Cut to the parking lot of my high school, one year later. I’m in my brand new Pontiac Grand Am (which I still drive to this day). I’m so cool – a senior, with a car, about to head to college in just a few months. I’m jamming to “My Heart Will Go On” and pulling out of my parking space. Then, I run into the most popular guy in school backing out of his parking space at the same time. Luckily, there wasn’t much damage, and I never had to admit this little incident to anyone (until now).

Needless to say, from that point on, Celine Dion has been banned from my car. The minute she comes on, I hastily change the channel. Not tempting fate here. Celine has some kind of voodoo curse on me. Although, I was once tempted to listen to “I Drove All Night” while in park, but decided not to take my chances.

I went several years without an accident, but don’t worry, my poor driving skills aren’t just accident related. I often swerve like I’ve been drinking, “curb check!” is probably the most common phrase you’ll hear me mutter in the car, and my proclivity for getting lost results in many illegal U-turns and trips the wrong way down one-way streets.

I’m not proud.

For the most part, I was able to keep my poor driving skills on the down low until the fall of 2009. And then, I showed the world what I was really made of.

My ex fiancé and I borrowed my mom and step-dad’s brand new truck to help transport items to the cabin at Lake Gaston that we had just bought. My ex and I were taking two vehicles down to the lake, and I was responsible for driving the ridiculously large Dodge Ram 1500.  

Why in the world would anyone give me such a responsibility?

I told my ex that I didn’t feel comfortable with such a large vehicle, but he assured me I would be fine. We packed up both vehicles, and were about to head on our way. Then, I realized I forgot to tell him something. I tried calling his cell phone, but it must have been on silent, because he didn’t answer. No worries, I thought, I’ll just drive to the other side of the house where he was loading his Jeep, and tell him.

I turned the corner and felt a big bump. “CURB CHECK!” I thought. And then continued to drive.

This was no curb check people. This was a fire hydrant.

Yes. You heard me right. I ran over a fire hydrant.

The pictures speak for themselves.

truck, Dodge Ram, accident

Again, I’m not proud. My ex completely freaked out and started yelling at me. “What in (expletive) were you thinking? How could you do this? What’s wrong with you? [INSERT OTHER VERY UNHELPFUL RANTS HERE, ALONG WITH SOME MORE EXPLETIVES.]”

Then, we proceeded to fight about how unhelpful his yelling at me was, considering I was already sobbing, feeling like an idiot and incredibly embarrassed and scared to tell my parents that I had wrecked their brand new truck.

Luckily, my parents understood. They were upset, but as my step-father said, “Mistakes happen.” I paid their deductible, and now we laugh about it. Except last week when the truck started to make funny noises and the only thing we can think is that it must be leftover from the accident. But, I digress. Mistakes happen.

For years, I thought my poor driving ability was a quirk of mine. Endearing, even. Since that last accident, I’ve been trying to be a better driver. But there has been one key thing that’s been keeping me from being a good driver:

I can’t parallel park.

Like I mentioned in my Dating Resume, and even on my very first post on this blog, I can’t parallel park. And I’m not just saying I’m no good at parallel parking. I mean I literally can’t parallel park.

For some reason, parallel parking wasn’t part of my Driver’s Ed, and it certainly wasn’t part of the test to get my driver’s license. I live in Chester, people. They were more concerned that I knew how to get on the highway to go to the big city, never mind that I can’t park when I actually get there.

My inability to parallel park has been a key factor in my life. It meant that in college, I had to shell out money for a spot in the parking deck. One year, when I accidentally slept in late the day parking spots went on sale, I had to buy a spot in a parking deck a gazillion miles away and walk 15 minutes to class every day. Through hobos, crossing many dangerous streets, uphill both ways, through the snow with no shoes. All because I can’t parallel park.

It didn’t stop with college. The fact that I can’t parallel park affects my restaurant choices and whether I go to visit my friends in different parts of Richmond. Hell, I live in Chester primarily because I can’t parallel park. Living in Richmond wouldn’t seem so impossible for me if the parking didn’t stress me out so much!

I recently realized that I’d had enough. This disability was holding me back on my quest to be Simply Solo. Something had to give.

A colleague at my work, Brian, graciously offered to teach me how to parallel park in the office parking lot. We put the training session on the calendar. I had the appropriate amount of negative thoughts that I could never learn. I told him that he better pack his patience.  

Meet Brian, my parallel parking instructor

The day of the big lesson came. I was so nervous. How embarrassing would it be if I ran into Brian’s car in the parking lot of my work? Surely, I’d have to find a new job. I couldn’t live through that kind of embarrassment.

And then a miracle happened: He taught me to parallel park. Not only that, he taught me how to back into a parking space. (What? I didn’t mention I couldn’t do that either? Whoops!) It was way easier than I had ever thought.

parallel parking practice

See! I didn't hit his car!

parallel parking practice

Didn't hit his car this time either!

 Okay, I’m not great. I’ve got a lot of practice to do.

So if you see some random blonde pulling into spaces, jumping out of her car excitedly to see how well she did, and then getting back into her car only to find another space to park in, don’t be alarmed. She’s probably just trying to improve her parallel parking skills.

Now, if you hear Celine Dion playing on the radio, run for your dear life.

Here are some more fuzzy shots (taken with my Blackberry) of me practicing on my own time. Next trip downtown, I’m driving people!

parallel parking practice

Practice makes perfect!

parallel parking practice

Note: The dent on this car was NOT caused by me!

parallel parking practice

Okay, to be fair, we are BOTH really far from the curve!


50 Comments leave one →
  1. natasha permalink
    April 21, 2011 8:50 am

    Congrats on learning how to parallel park 🙂 Now, onto learning to drive a 5 speed and how to turn around on the highway.. 🙂

    • April 21, 2011 7:23 pm

      Thanks, sis! Can you parallel park? I’ve always wondered!
      And on the 5 speed… I definitely want to learn how to do that too. You going to teach me… in your car?? 🙂 haha

  2. April 21, 2011 9:02 am

    I always say I can relate almost every life incident to an episode of SATC. So funny!

    Oh, and that street in that last photo is absolutely beautiful. I’m not great at parallel parking, either. But I’ve lived in the suburbs for most of my adult life, so there hasn’t been much reason to learn. Lucky for me, I’m not afraid of looking like a fool from time to time. Hell – I’m kind of used to it. 🙂

    • April 21, 2011 7:22 pm

      That street is nice, isn’t it? Funny thing is, it isn’t the nicest part of town. After I took this picture, I looked around, and was like, “Maybe this isn’t such a good idea, parking, taking a picture, and getting back in my car!” Oh well – I survived! 🙂

      You know, I’m not great at it, and I’m not sure I’m going to get enough experience parallel parking (primarily because I live in the suburbs) to be really great at it. But, at least I know how now. I had no idea before. If I couldn’t pull directly into a spot, it wasn’t happening. A long time ago, I wasn’t afraid to try, but then when I was working at this internship, I drove this one girl and me to lunch. I didn’t realize we had to parallel park. When I attempted to do so (and sucked at it), she literally yelled at me, saying, “You went to VCU [which is in the city] and you can’t parallel park?! Are you kidding me? Get out, and I’ll do it!!” She was such a jerk. Anyway, after that, I never wanted to try every again, I was so embarrassed. I’m very happy I can at least try again!!

  3. April 21, 2011 9:30 am

    Great job at parallel parking. I can’t parallel park and I’ve been driving for nearly 50 years. There’s no reason to parallel park in San Antonio. You have to walk a half hour because the parking lots are so big (everything is bigger in Texas) but also built because nobody in Texas can parallel park.

    • April 21, 2011 7:18 pm

      Mairedubhtx,
      Thanks!! I am quite proud of myself 🙂 That’s interesting about San Antonio. That’s how it is here in the suburbs! But in Richmond, you have to know how or you are screwed. So I’m really happy to have learned this skill. I think it’ll really help out (and make driving much less stressful!).

  4. Zak permalink
    April 21, 2011 9:39 am

    My only advice is: don’t get too excited about parallel parking and forget to actually pay attention!

    Loving the shots of your successes. Photos are always worth a thousand words in my book, even if “fuzzy.”

    • April 21, 2011 7:16 pm

      Zak,
      Good advice indeed. My excitement sometimes gets the best of me 🙂

  5. April 21, 2011 9:47 am

    I seriously LOVE reading about your adventures.
    Thanks for sharing

  6. Megan permalink
    April 21, 2011 9:50 am

    Go Catherine! Next time we do dinner, it’ll have to be in the Fan : )

    • April 21, 2011 7:16 pm

      Indeed!! Now, I’m not sure I can squeeze into small spots, but I’m sure I’ll be able to find a spot or two that will work for me! 🙂

  7. April 21, 2011 9:58 am

    My ex had a Dodge Ram like that…I hated it driving it. I once had to drive it part of the way up to Cape Cod. I freaked out when we got to section of highway with Jersey walls. I didn’t hurt the truck because I was going like 55 in a 60 mph zone. Other drivers hated me for that stretch of road though.

    • April 21, 2011 7:15 pm

      Thoughts,
      Those trucks are just soooo big! It’s really hard to handle, especially if you’ve been used to a smaller vehicle. Glad someone else feels my pain 🙂

  8. Just Saying permalink
    April 21, 2011 10:53 am

    I’d get Brian to teach you how to drive in general!
    Did you ever take proper lessons? If not, that explains a lot. If you did, I’d sue whoever taught you.

    I”m laughing and shaking my head at you, thankful we do not live in the same town. 😉

    • April 21, 2011 7:14 pm

      Haha, Just Saying. I have to admit that I’m doing a better job (knock on wood) of driving these days. Age/maturity and forcing myself to pay attention has improved my abilities quite a bit. I pay more attention when I drive than in high school when I wrecked my Dad’s car, and I sort of feel like wrecking my mom’s truck a few years ago was a fluke. I just didn’t estimate for how enormous the truck was when I made the turn, and then the bed of the truck basically sideswiped the fire hydrant. Not to say that everyone would do this… but I just didn’t know what I didn’t know. I’d never driven a truck before, so I just didn’t realize how much extra space I needed to take into account when I made turns. I guess it’s common sense, but it just didn’t occur to me.

      I actually did take proper lessons, and my instructor was OK… It’s just taken me a bit longer than the average person to get my bearings on the road. But I assure you, I’m not a menace (I don’t think). I just have to really remind myself to pay attention and also to watch out for curbs :). I think if I were a TRUE menace, I probably would have been in more than 2 1/2 accidents in the last 8 years. (I only count the parking lot in high school accident as a half haha).

  9. April 21, 2011 11:40 am

    Ya kn0w, parallel parking does require a lesson or two. So of course you didn’t know how to do it. I was taught but some random dude at a gas station who watched me fail miserably at parallel parking for about 5 minutes before walking over and telling me what I was doing wrong. And for me, it’s not like riding a bike. If I don’t do it for awhile, I can’t remember how anymore.

    So, yeah. Those are my thoughts.

    • April 21, 2011 7:09 pm

      Mandy,
      Haha, I love that some random guy taught you how to parallel park. Good point on it not being like riding a bike – I bet you do get rusty after you havne’t done it in a while.

      You are totally right – since I’d never been taught, I really didn’t have any concept of what I was supposed to do. I didn’t know the steps. Once Brian broke it down into steps for me (and they are pretty much the same every time), I felt much more comfortable. Now I just have to practice so I don’t forget the steps 🙂

  10. Melanie Crouch permalink
    April 21, 2011 12:44 pm

    I love it! I repeatedly tell my husband that I was born without the backing-up-the-car gene. I just can’t do it. I have a tiny car and I still can’t back up five feet without hitting something or being ridiculously crooked. I too have hit cars’ bumpers when parallel parking. (Why would they be called bumpers if that’s not what they’re for?) A couple months ago, I hit a curb in the parking lot where I work (and have worked for more than eight years) and slashed my tire. I think I’m a good driver, as long as the car is going forward in a straight line or parked. 🙂

    Great post!

    • April 21, 2011 7:08 pm

      Thanks, Melanie! I seriously think backing the car up into a spot is even harder than parallel parking. I need to practice it more. This stuff is just hard if you never practice – I mean, once you know you suck at something, it’s even harder to force yourself to keep trying!

      Good point on the bumpers… my instructor Brian told me that “love taps” are totally OK! I’m going to move forward with that advice… call me crazy, but I see quite a few “love taps” in my future! 🙂

      I gotta give you props though… I’ve never hit a curb hard enough to actually slash a tire. That takes real skills! Usually I just damage my tire enough that it slowly leaks and suddenly I’m surprised with a flat tire.

      Glad to hear I’m not the only one who is driving-challenged… 🙂

  11. mom permalink
    April 21, 2011 6:47 pm

    Excellent post! !!! I need that picture of the bed of the truck .. That’s exactly where the grind is comming from ..You may have solved the puzzle, that has left two auto shops in wonder… THEY HAVE TRYED EVERYTHING !!! One last thing I don’t parallel park ever….

    • April 21, 2011 7:04 pm

      Haha, thanks Mom… and err, sorry about the truck. Really sorry. 🙂
      Hope that they can fix the noise! I feel so guilty!

  12. April 21, 2011 6:58 pm

    Backing into parking spaces is my “thing.” I even back into my own garage. I consider it a skill to be proud of! Then again, I am definitely not a fan of Celine Dion, so you’ll never hear her music in my car. Could be that my parking expertise and Celine ban are related…

    • April 21, 2011 7:03 pm

      Mark, You know what’s funny, for some reason, I have a harder time backing into parking spaces than I do parallel parking! So I definitely need to practice this more. It’s a good skill to have, especially when going to a concert or other event, so you can easily pull out of the spot. I used to always get out, and then let my ex park my car for me. I look back and think about how stupid that is. I should have just learned how. Well, I’m trying to learn now so I don’t ever have to rely on a guy to do this for me again! And you may be onto something regarding the Celine ban… 🙂

  13. Kev permalink
    April 21, 2011 7:05 pm

    I will not be inpressed until you can parallel park a Dodge Ram 1500 just not mine HA HA

    • April 21, 2011 7:27 pm

      HAHA — that’ll be the day! I wouldn’t hold your breath on that one!!

  14. Deb permalink
    April 22, 2011 1:39 am

    lol oh wow…but you know what must be a gryp thing, cause i cant parrallel park either! I dont even attempt it, unless Tyrus is with me, and he has to parrallel park for me from the passenger side…LOL

    • April 26, 2011 10:00 pm

      Tyrus parallel parks for you from the passenger side?? That can’t be safe!! You should learn. I’ll teach you next time I see you 🙂

  15. April 22, 2011 10:18 am

    Congrats on parallel parking! Accomplishing a goal, or learning something new, is always very fulfilling!

    -L

    PS. My sincere apologies on never getting back to you via e-mail. The Day we were discussing actually came and went without me really thinking about it. Maybe we’re further along than we thought?

    • April 26, 2011 9:59 pm

      Lucky,
      Thanks! It was awesome to learn something new – I feel all kinds of new and improved. Like a shampoo. Only, hopefully you don’t get 30 percent more… haha!
      No problem on not getting back to me. I actually felt fine on my one-year. I did think about it a little, but not a tear dropped. We are both doing pretty amazing – sometimes we need to just remind ourself and give the appopriate props. You are awesome!

  16. April 22, 2011 12:35 pm

    Hahah! I live in the city, so parallel parking is the FIRST thing we learn, along with how to cut other people off. Interestingly enough, actually getting a license is one of the last things on my list of things to do, so you’re ahead of me there. I’ve been out of college for almost three years now, and I still don’t have mine.

    My parents are both amazing drivers, and my dad loves to drive backwards for whatever reason (he’ll just back down an entire block), so that’s no problem for me. My biggest problem is actually turning FORWARD into parking spaces and getting the car straight!

    Actually, reading this has spurred me on to go hit up the DMV for scheduling a test date…

    • April 26, 2011 9:57 pm

      Ooh, Beata. I need a lesson on cutting people off – I don’t know how to, well, intentionally anyway. Ha! Definitely go get your driver’s license! It’s such an awesome validation. Make sure to let me know once you have! That’s funny, too, about your dad. I certainly can’t drive backwards…. but I’m not sure that’s a talent I’ll need any time soon. Good luck with your test!

  17. April 23, 2011 11:52 am

    Well done! I spent my 1st month that I could drive driving the long way home cos I didn’t like changing lanes on the motorway! Parking’s not an issue, luckily! And, in the driving test we’re asked to park the car-anyway we like. So I chose to drive forwards into a space. Why would I make it difficult for myself and parallel park if i don’t have to!!!???!!!

    • April 26, 2011 9:54 pm

      LOL, livvy! That’s so funny! I used to drive in the right lane on the highway all the time because I didn’t like passing other cars. So I feel your pain!
      Your driving test was just like mine!! They didn’t make me parallel park at all. So I never had the opportunity or reason to learn! Happy I know how now 🙂

  18. April 25, 2011 12:24 pm

    Oh, I feel your pain. When I was in college a campus security guard hit my car, sending it into a tree. I jumped from my poor, little Focus and gave the guy a hug and a giant “Thank You! Thank You!”. I was so relieved that I could call my dad, for once, and explain that I was in an accident that wasn’t at all my fault!

    • April 26, 2011 9:47 pm

      Haha, Tori! That’s hilarious. I remember calling my dad when I wrecked his car – I went into the Papa Johns across the street from the accident. When he answered, I said “Umm, Dad…” and he just said, “What did you do?” He just knew it. LOL! It will be a fine day when there is an accident that is in no way my fault! haha 🙂 (As long as no one gets hurt!!)

  19. April 25, 2011 10:04 pm

    Oh my gosh! I can’t believe you hit a fire hydrant! I’m glad you’re ok, but the parallel parking lesson makes for a good story!
    -Gizzy

    • April 26, 2011 9:43 pm

      LOL, Gizzy. I find it hard to believe I sideswiped that fire hydrant too. It came out of no where! (Except for the fact that it’s probably been there since the 70’s haha!) I’ve definitely learned to watch out for fire hydrants from here on out.

  20. April 26, 2011 6:49 pm

    I’ve never learned how to parallel park either, but you’ve just inspired me to learn! Thank you, Catherine 🙂

    • April 26, 2011 9:41 pm

      Haha, awesome! If you learn how, be sure to update me on how it goes! It’s much easier than I ever thought, I have to admit!

  21. May 3, 2011 12:54 am

    For those who aren’t good drivers: then consider seriously not driving. It will endanger yourself and even maybe someone else.

    I gave up my driver’s license in my early 20’s since I was never comfortable driving on high speed highways and did have a lot of problems learning to drive.

    So it’s cycling (last 18 yrs.) , public transit and walking. I’ve always lived in cities close to public transit. Cycling is just 1 nice option which keeps me fit (reasonably).

    As a cyclist, it’s scary to know of less than good drivers. Even worse now, drivers using cellphone while they drive.

    I have not lived in a home with a car for last quarter century. My partner hasn’t either for last 18 yrs. of his life.

    We adjust happily. And yes, we live a cycling lifestyle.

    Jean also blogmaster for http://www.velo-city2012blog.com

    • May 4, 2011 9:10 pm

      Jean,
      I assure you that I’m exaggerating a bit in this post. While I’ve had some bad driving experiences, I’m not a bad enough driver to not drive. I just have to pay extra attention and practice. I’ve actually been getting better as the years go on and I get more experience under my belt (and more maturity). And I think it’s a good thing that I take initiative like learning how to parallel park 🙂 But, I think it would be awesome to be able to live a life without driving! I’m not sure it’s possible for me right now, especially considering I’m a 25 minute drive from work, but maybe someday I’ll live in a city where everything I need is in walking/biking distance!

  22. August 14, 2011 3:24 pm

    I am 18 and can’t parallel park at all. I learned how to do it just for my driving test two years ago, and then after I passed, I haven’t even tried to do it since. I live in the suburbs, but in the future I really want to live in the city, so someday, hopefully I’ll be able to learn how to do it again! Thanks for your post. It is inspiring, and it lets me know that it’s never too late to learn how to parallel park 🙂

    • August 18, 2011 10:52 pm

      Thanks, Caroline! It really is never too late to learn. I’m afraid, for me anyway, it’s not “like riding a bike.” I think you have to practice every once in a while so you don’t forget the key strategy of parallel parking. It’s an empowering skill for sure though!

  23. ale permalink
    July 28, 2013 12:07 pm

    Great!!! I am so happy for you 🙂 and I want to emulate you learning how to parallel park!

  24. Debra settles permalink
    April 22, 2016 9:51 am

    To this day I still love reading your blogs. And to this day I still can not parallel park either. No matter how many people try to teach me lol

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