I was sweating bullets. It was the road test for my driver's license, I was 16 and this was the major right of passage into a future of independence and adulthood. There were the responsibilities of driving a motor vehicle with the inherent risks of bodily harm to oneself and others but most important to a teenager, you now had wheels. And that meant a new found freedom. As long as you had access to a vehicle, of course.
A road test at that time in the suburbs was remarkably simple, virtually a formality. The expectation was that one would pass unless otherwise proven incompetent. My test consisted of driving a couple roads, a simple turn and parking in a wide open lot on return.
However, this still was a major event and it would be a tragedy to fail. When my examiner asked for a simple right turn, I drove over the curb. His response is engraved in my mind and I sometimes still hear it to this day: "Nice move, kid."
He might as well have said, "step out, you're finished." The rest of the very short road test was trying to live through the embarrassment and humiliation. Upon my return to Motor Vehicles, my instructor told me to go inside the office. He left without saying whether I had passed or failed. I assumed someone inside would be the harbinger of bad news. At the counter, I asked if I had failed. The clerk appeared perplexed and said that she was only told to process my license. Apparently examiners allowed for extreme nervousness.
Fortunately, parallel parking was not part of the exam. This is a skill that many living outside a city never learn or need to. I have watched many visitors to New York City try to parallel park in a very roomy spot, yet leave in frustration after repeated failed attempts to get in.
On a recent journey to Brooklyn, I had great difficulty finding a parking spot. The only thing available within blocks of my destination was a spot so tight that there was only an inch or two of additional space over the length of my car. But duty called. In these tight spots, the first cut you make steering is critical. The rest is finessing mixed with tedium. In a parking space this tight, gentle bumping the other vehicles with every move forward and back is required. Regardless of how gentle you are, best the owners of the neighboring cars are not there to witness this process.
More extreme circumstances arise where no spot large enough can be found. Can you park in a spot shorter than your vehicle? Yes. I have seen large heavy cars park in spaces like this by pushing and moving cars in front and in back with each iteration as they wedged themselves in.
A honed skill at parallel parking brings street cred and bespeaks of a seasoned New Yorker. Get it right with a perfect first cut, a minimum of jockeying, leaving your car within inches of the curb and perhaps you will hear from an observer what I once did, but without the sarcasm - "Nice Move, Kid." :)