OPINION

Just Thinking: Benevolent response to bad parking warms heart

MARGO BARTLETT

I have many good reasons to be glad I live where I do, and the note someone left on my windshield the other day represents one of them. 

I was at the grocery store, and right away I must tell you I knew I had done a terrible job of parking. 

Margo Bartlett

I’d waited while someone pulled out of the spot, sort of squinched over so she could get around me after she’d finished backing out, and then, on the spur of the moment, I decided, what the heck, I’d take that very space. It already was warmed up, so to speak.  

Thanks to the squinching, pulling into the spot involved a big swing out, a tight turn in and a certain amount of backing and straightening and, well, even after all that, the car still wasn’t what anyone would call nicely arranged.  

When I returned to the car with the groceries, in fact, I spoke out loud.  

“That is the worst parking job you have ever done,” I said sternly. 

I was tempted to move the car before I went back into the store for a coffee, but I rejected the urge as silly. Still, 10 minutes later, when I arrived back at the car for a second time, coffee in hand, I was mortified all over again. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. 

How ironic, I thought, that when my daughters were small, still my captive audience in the back seat, I often pointed out my fabulous parallel-parking skills. 

“I may not be a world-famous surgeon or the inventor of the Hula Hoop,” I would tell them as I executed a smooth backwards move into a tight space, “but parallel parking I can do.” 

I still can do it, though even with a rear-view camera, I tend to leave a whole mile back there. 

But making a 90-degree turn into a rectangular spot in a parking lot is trickier, apparently. 

Maybe I’m like a physicist who understands the transformation and propagation of energy but can’t get the dog’s harness on right side up. 

It wasn’t until later, when I was home and putting the groceries away, that my husband brought me the note. 

“This was under your windshield wiper,” he said. 

“That was the worst parking job I’ve ever done,” I said, but my husband was studying the note and not listening. 

“It’s written on a Speedway receipt,” he said, adding enviously, “He got gas for under $2 a gallon.” 

I gave him a look. “Give it to me,” I said. 

Even before I read the note, I was reminded of Joyce Carol Oates’ memoir, “A Widow’s Story,” written after her first husband died. 

Early in the book, Oates describes rushing into the hospital to visit her husband. When she returned to her crazily parked car hours later, exhausted and still frantic with worry, she had a note on her windshield. It read, and I quote exactly, “Learn to park stuppid b---h.” 

You’d think, perhaps, that such a note would be instantly forgotten in the emotional chaos of a husband’s illness and unexpected death, but, clearly, Oates did not forget it. She told the story of the message in her book, because the flippant cruelty of strangers has a way of burrowing in and making everything around it inflamed and tender.  

This could lead me straight to the breathtakingly vicious world of internet comments, even a brief visit to which can all but destroy a person’s faith in the species, but I’m refusing to go. 

I’m staying right here, to read the note someone left on my windshield. 

It said, “Hi, Maybe next time try to  

park in the space and straighten it out. Thanks.” 

And that, my friends, is why I’m crazy about the city where I live.  

We don’t agree about everything, heaven knows, and right now, weeks before a  

contentious, defining election, you might think we’re poised on the cusp of open warfare.  

But we’re not. We’re decent, even friendly, not to mention patient human beings. I have the note that proves it right here. 

Write to columnist Margo Bartlett at margo.bartlett@gmail.com.

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