So you think you’re a good parallel parker? Then
you’re dared to take the Mr. Greek’s Parking Challenge,
a test so brutal that it reduces seasoned parkers to tears. Ever
tried to squeeze into a street-side space on a weekday afternoon,
while scores of french fry-eating patrons witness your every move?
The world stops as you shift from drive to reverse in attempt to
complete a flawless arc. Suddenly, approaching glory crumbles as
you bang into the Honda behind you. Flustered, you pull forward
only to crash into someone’s Beemer. Smashing fenders with
wild abandon and sweating profusely, you finally manage to wedge
in. Defeated, you walk into the restaurant, only to hear some jerk
yell, “Hey, Austin Powers!” across the room.

Mira Levitan
Parallel parking in Ann Arbor requires patience, skill and cunning from drivers brave enough to attempt it. (SHUBRA OHRI/Daily)

While this scenario never happened (I swear), scenes of its type
take place everyday in Ann Arbor, where parallel parking is
unavoidable. With 1,537 metered spaces in the campus/downtown area
and at 80 cents an hour, all this activity requires is a car, a
destination and a pocketful of petty cash. It’s not as simple
as it sounds, though. Before you offer to drive your friends around
Ann Arbor, swinging into empty spots to redeem yourself from the
Greek’s incident, read on for tips that will make your
parking skills unparalleled.

The scouting process is essential, as finding a good spot is
key. If the car-to-destination walk exceeds five minutes (10
minutes if it’s warm out), it’s not a good spot. One
can employ various reconnaissance methods. The
driver-look-left-passenger-look-right method is effective because
it covers both sides of the street, but it’s dangerous. The
phone-a-friend, calling someone who is on-location to inform you of
curb vacancies, works in theory but not in practice — by the
time you arrive, the open spot your friend saw seconds ago is
taken. Parking virtuoso (and Seinfeld character) George
Costanza’s system is a winner — looking for the
“dream spot” and then slowly expanding out in
“concentric circles” is an all-encompassing method. The
dream spot, the Holy Grail of parking spaces, exists in front of
your destination’s door. If no more than 30 seconds pass
between exiting the car and reaching the entrance, congratulations
— you have secured the elusive dream spot. If no dream spot
is visible, commence concentric circles, which are simply loops
rippling outward from the dream spot’s coordinates.

A word about circles — driving in them causes frustration.
Thankfully, Ann Arbor has become hip to the notion of two-way
traffic, now allowing it on difficult streets such as East Liberty
Street and North University Avenue. This cuts driving time, but if
you’re on your fourth lap around the block (or out of an
acceptable walking radius), give up and park in a structure.
Ranging from a 95 cent to $1.25 an hour, they’re not as cheap
as a meter, but the extra cash is worth it to spare the road rage.
There are 254 metered spots in lots and structures across the city,
but the chances of finding one vacant are slim. After 6 p.m. or on
Sundays, parking is free in most University staff lots. If you
scoff at structures, you’ll get lucky eventually;
you’ll just have to be patient.

If, by divine intervention, a car pulls out of the spot
you’ve been coveting, put the blinker on immediately to
safeguard against lurkers — those who are waiting for the
same spot as you, but lose the blinker face-off and then unlawfully
steal the spot. Make sure the spot is big enough for your car,
because there’s nothing worse than Austin Powers’
syndrome. If the space is sufficient, eliminate all distractions
— get off the phone, tell your friends in the backseat to
shut up, turn off the radio — and commence parking. This is
the heart of the operation, the act that can leave you feeling like
a titan or a turkey, and it must be meticulously executed. If
you’re really concerned, have someone get out of your car and
direct you. This is cheating because you can’t take full
credit for the parking job, so if you have faith in your
inner-parking mechanism, go it alone.

First, pull up to give yourself room to maneuver. Checking your
rear and side-view mirrors obsessively, employ the hand-over-hand
method taught in driver’s training. Slowly turn the wheel to
the right, nudge it to the left and gently glide the car into the
space. Make sure not to slam into anything. Again, Costanza’s
wisdom is apropos: “It’s all geometry, knowing all the
angles, when to make that first turn and then when to swing it back
in, that’s the key.”

When you emerge triumphantly from your vehicle, admire your work
and exclaim to everyone within earshot, “What a
beauty!” Stare at them until they nod in agreement. Smirk at
your friends because they doubted you. Call your mother and tell
her that you’re back, baby — Ann Arbor’s reigning
champion of parallel parking has done it again. You walk into your
destination, which happens to be Mr. Greek’s, feeling like
the new American Idol.

Leaving the restaurant, you glimpse a thin white envelope on
your windshield. In all the excitement, you forgot to pop some
quarters in the meter. Wailing “Nooooooo!” in
opera-worthy woe, you realize you’ve destroyed the perfect
park — the final leg of the Greek’s challenge is
returning to a ticket-free car. The ticket will run you $5 if you
pay at City Hall within the next 24 hours, $10 if you mail your
payment within 14 days. However, this is a small price to pay for
entering a restaurant and not being compared to a horny Englishman
with bad teeth.

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