Pulling into the parking space this morning I felt like a teenage boy losing his virginity. I went in and it was too far to the left. On try two I was too far to the right. In and out I went, off rhythm and crooked. Finally I pulled all the way out to start again. This time it worked. Flipping my back pack onto my shoulder and my hair off of my face I met the eye of a woman parked perfectly across from me. I gave a sheepish shrug hoping for a bit of camaraderie, but instead her eyes were wide and cold. She wanted no part of the mess that is my parking.
This reminded me of a piece that I wrote for The Good Men Project this fall.
I will paste it here in case you don’t want to click the link.
In my family my mom drove. This was a necessary evil. Each time she saw a potential hazard she slammed on the brakes jolting the three of us forward and testing the functionality of the seat belt. She was also constantly worried we had missed a turn. This was before the era of GPS so there was lots of opportunity for confusion.
Despite the mental and physical exhaustion caused by my mother behind the wheel it was better than the alternative. My father was not a rule follower even when it meant breaking the law and risking the lives of his family. It was his way or the highway…particularly on the highway. My dad decided that it was easier to drive a car when you centered the hood of the car the dashed yellow line that ran between lanes. As a result we were a giant, deadly Pacman driving down the Mass Pike, gobbling dashed lines like packman pellets. The blare of horns was constant, just like my mother’s white knuckles.
In 2010 the Institute of Advanced Motorists found that in heterosexual couples men were four times as likely to drive as women. Amanda Marcotte writes in Slate magazine that men consider it emasculating when women take the wheel. I don’t know what my father thought…but I thought it might well extend my life span from 10 minutes to 70 years.
In our family Steve drives. In the early days of our relationship we would defer to each other. We acted as if driving were the desired position and riding was somehow “less than.” So I would “let” him drive and he would thank me and offer a favor later to show his gratitude. It worked quite well for me. As the years went on we just accepted that he would drive. On days that I had been out and about alone I would walk to the drivers side by rote even when we were headed out together. He would always seem pleased. So I would drive us. The kids would express surprise that I was driving while Dada was in the car and I just told them honestly that I didn’t like to drive very much, and Dada did.
I worried a bit that we were perpetuating a commonly held stereotype about gender roles. This concern didn’t prevent me from staying on the passenger side. I would tell them about my childhood where my mother drove all the time and figure they might chalk it up as personal preference not a societal expectation.
Over the years my driving skills dimmed as my night vision got worse and I had less and less practice. Now I am worried about perpetuating another myth…that women are worse drivers than men. Neither Steve nor I have gotten into an accident with another car in the years we have been together. We have had a few dings and dents… I seem to have a vendetta against trash cans near the driveway. I insist they are purposefully placed in my blind-spot. Steve has a particular curb on the way home from hockey that he has driven over three times. He describes it as jagged and jutting, and entirely uncurb-like. We are tied at zero serious accidents.
According to the National Highway Safety administration men cause 6.1 million accidents a year while women are responsible for 4.4 million, perhaps because (according to the Federal Highway Administration ) they drive 40% more than women. A 2014 report from the Insurance Institute of Highway safety takes into account the above numbers to conclude:
“That means men drive about 30 percent more miles than women. Yet, they’re implicated in slightly less than 30 percent of car accidents. Men do cause more accidents, but they are actually less at-risk than women, by a small margin.” This still leaves things a bit murky for me, which allows us to continue this entertaining debate.
There is one area that leaves no room for debate. I am the worst at parking. Not just the worst in my family, but possibly the worst in the world. I can easily spot my car in a lot because it hangs so far out past the other vehicles. After observing this a few dozen times I made a correction and began to pull into spots so far that the parking blocks became one with my front bumper. So I stopped pulling in as far. Which resulted in me hanging out the back again. A study from Ruhr University in Germany indicates that I follow the rule when it comes to parking. Sixty Five men and women were asked to park an Audi A6 pulling forward into an empty parking spot. They found that women took 20% longer than men to position the car, which in the end was less centered in the bay than the cars driven by men.
Recently Steve popped into the coffee shop where I was working for what I thought was a quick hello. When he reached for my car keys I asked him where he was headed. “Just to move the car” he told me. “You are taking up four slots.” I had arrived to an empty parking lot at 8am. Now around lunchtime patrons were headed to the sushi spot next door. The problem with staying between the yellow lines might just be genetic. With no other cars in my way I had pulled forward enough to center the cross hatch of the 4 parking spaces under the belly of the beast. My father would have loved my parking job.