The Last Word

The Last Word Illustration by Marc Thomas
The Parking Lot WedgieWhat’s a Woman to Do When Her Small Car Is Trapped Between Two SUVs?

By Alison Inglehart 

Driving a total of four minivans in the ’90s and early 2000s as my children grew up, I understood early on the tactical advantages of owning a large vehicle and looking down on most everyone else.

But while others traded up to larger and larger cars and trucks, I downsized to a small Volkswagen a couple of years ago. I looked forward to better gas mileage, kinder effects on the environment and more maneuverability.

When I drove into the parking lot of a grocery store recently, I was reminded of the strategic advantage that size provides the majority of vehicles and their drivers these days.

I’m not disabled – at least no more than any 60-year-old – so I didn’t get a prime space close up.

That’s OK. I have my own agenda when parking: I park as far away from the store as possible, leaving my little car by itself or as close to alone as possible. Preferably, I pull into a drive-through space that leaves me facing out so I can see what I’m up against.

However, invariably when I return to my car, I’m wedged between two of the largest SUVs and trucks available, what humorist Dave Barry refers to as “Suburbs”: Hummers (weighing up to four tons), Lincoln Navigators (18½ feet long), GMC Yukons, Chevy Avalanches and behemoth Toyota Tundras that are 6 inches wider, 18 inches taller and a yard longer than my car.

Problem is, wedged between two such mountain ranges, backing out becomes a faltering game of “Gotcha!” in which I back out by inches, rubbernecking with one foot on the brake and one hand on the horn to see if drivers are coming, how fast they’re coming and if they look like they’re going to let me out. And usually that’s a no.

Most often, the oncoming driver speeds up rather than slows down, laying on his or her own horn.

After one of these sessions too many, I decided to get to the bottom of all this.

I sat in my car and dialed the non-emergency telephone number of the police department, reaching the duty officer.

“I’m sitting in a parking lot in a small car, wedged in between two big vehicles that weren’t here when I arrived,” I told him. “I can’t get out; I need to know what to do!”

“That happen to you, too?” he asked me. “Seems like every time I park, I come back to my car crowded between two big vehicles that keep me from seeing out. Makes it hard to back out without getting hit,” he noted.

“Right,” I said. “So, who has the right of way? I’m parked; the drivers are moving.”

“Usually, the driver who is moving has the right of way,” he said.

“But I could sit here for hours without catching a break!” I moaned.

“The wife was saying the same thing to me not two nights ago,” the officer added.

In other words, he was sympathetic, but not very helpful.

Ultimately, I managed to back out and get home to do some research online. I Googled “parking lot etiquette” and read through some of the 2,060 entries.

While none addressed the wedging dilemma, they did have strong words for the infractions of parking lot etiquette by older folks (fire lane parkers), pedestrians (folks who seem to take the longest, slowest route while walking in front of your car) and students (parking sharks who “disrespect the blinker” and swoop into a newly vacated spot that you’ve been patiently waiting for).

Infractions, I now see, are in the eye of the beholder. And my worst fears come true as I realize that Americans seem to be in a democracy based on vehicular weight and length.
Perhaps the best I can do when finding a safe and unwedged parking space is to admit what I already knew and follow the sad-but-true succinct admonition of an online vent I had come across earlier:

“Whoever has the biggest SUV has the right of way.”

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