Far be it from me to disagree with a decision made by the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, but I have to ask: Are you out of your flipping mind, MVA?
On Tuesday, the MVA announced that parallel parking is no longer part of the driver’s license test in Maryland. Officials said other parts of the test — the two-point reverse turn and the on-road portion — are sufficient to assess a driver’s skill.
To which I say: I don’t care. I had to parallel park to earn my driver’s license 36 years ago. All future drivers should be required to do the same. It isn’t merely that the skill is necessary; it’s that by removing that part of the test, the MVA is diminishing the importance of something I’m actually good at.
Or, should I say, great at.
I dither over the epithet to be carved uppermost on my gravestone — “Scholar,” “Humanitarian,” “Visionary” — but I know what will come next: “Parallel Parker.”
What Michael Jordan was to basketball and Ted Williams was to hitting, what Olga Korbut was to gymnastics and “Weird Al” Yankovic is to parody song-writing, I am to parallel parking. I don’t care how small the space. If I have a micron on either side, I’m in.
And it isn’t just the “classic” parallel park: backing in from the right side of a two-way street. I can do the “leftie”: backing in from the left side of a one-way street. I’ve even done what is arguably the most difficult challenge, at least for Americans: parallel parking a right-hand-drive, manual-transmission car on the left side of the street.
And now you tell me this counts for nothing?
I called David Resnick, treasurer for the Maryland Professional Driver Education Association. I expected him to share my outrage at the change. He didn’t.
“I’m actually in favor of it,” said David, who owns Elite Driving School, which has 14 locations in Maryland. “We have a lot of parents who want us to make sure we spend a lot of time on parallel parking and make it a focus of a large portion of behind-the-wheel training. Our response is, nobody dies [while] parallel parking. We want to work on entering and exiting expressways and focus on more dangerous maneuvers.”
All drivers need to be adept at those maneuvers, something that David feels can’t be said of parallel parking.
“If you live in D.C., you’re going to be doing a lot of parallel parking,” he said. “But the fact is that most people who don’t live in the city don’t parallel park that often.”
David said the driving-instructor community has been awash in rumors that there might be another reason behind the change. Some MVA locations are backed up more than two months to schedule a driving test, presumably clogged by people who failed their parking the first time.
“It is by far the most complex thing on the actual skill test,” David said. “Maybe taking out parallel parking will help more people pass, help alleviate that part of it.”
I put that question to the MVA’s Buel Young. “That’s a potential,” he said. “But it’s too early to determine that.” MVA’s bottom line, Buel said, is that the parallel-parking test was duplicative of other maneuvers.
I’m not sure I buy that. Backing up is not parallel parking. A two-point turn is not parallel parking. Parallel parking is the white-hot crucible of being a driver. Parallel parking tests grace under pressure. We often do it while another, smaller, car is circling, hoping we will fail. Sometimes a crowd forms. The clock is ticking. The steering wheel feels sweaty under our hands. We try to quiet the demons in our mind and enter a Zen state. We imagine ourselves floating above the car, looking down at the simple geometry problem we are attempting to solve. We attempt to will the car into the spot, as easily as a child puts the square peg in the square hole.
The vast majority of us will never land a fighter jet on an aircraft carrier pitching on an angry sea, but, gosh durnit, with enough practice, we can parallel park.
And that practice was something that bound us together as a nation. Countless are the times I’ve passed a high school on a weekend and seen traffic cones or folding chairs set up in the parking lot, a sobbing teenager beating her hands on the dashboard of Mom’s or Dad’s car. “I just can’t do it!” she cries. “I’ll take the bus!”
It’s a subject worthy of Norman Rockwell.
Victory gardens. Scrap-metal drives. Creek cleanups. Measles-mumps-rubella vaccinations. The draft. Barn raising. Voting. Newspaper reading. Parallel parking.
These common, shared experiences once counted for something in this country. Now they’ve gone the way of the village smithy.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.