Quirks: Parallel Universe

One of my least cherished memories involves a drivers’-ed instructor named Mr. Wilson and a set of Matchbox cars. It was 1975, and Mr. Wilson was trying to teach me to parallel park. At one point, keenly exasperated, he leaned over, opened the glove box and pulled out three toy cars. These he arranged on the seat between us, two of them parked against the seat back, the third waiting to pull into the space between. “This is how it works,” he said, and he rolled the third car cleanly into the space, as though it might be possible for me to simply summon a giant hand that would take control and park the car with absolutely no effort or expertise on my part.

Now I find, 30 years later, that it is possible. Lexus has designed a car that parallel parks itself, the catchily named LS 600h L Hybrid Sedan.

“It takes a radar read off the front and rear bumpers,” explained Michael Dobrin, who handles public relations for Lexus. Dobrin’s office is a few miles from our home, and Mike agreed to let me and Ed give the Advanced Parking Guidance System a try. “I want to warn you, this is not a snap deal,” said Mike when we arrived. “It takes a while to get the hang of it.” He drove us over to an area he called a dummy setup in the parking lot outside his office. I tried not to take the phrasing personally.

Mike had had one of his employees park her car in front of another parked car, leaving plenty of room for the Lexus. I pulled the Lexus alongside the front car, and Mike pushed a button on the computer screen to initiate the parking system. He explained that when

the trapezoid on the screen turns green, the car has determined that it’s in the right position to begin parking itself. The trapezoid was red. I repositioned the car.

Still red.Meanwhile, Ed sat in back, reading through the press kit and enjoying the built-in seat massager. After my third try, Mike got out of the Lexus and conferred with the woman in the parked car. “I think maybe you’re over too far toward the curb,” he said. “Can you come forward? Little more? Right there.”

Instead of merely being humiliated at flubbing a parking job, I was being humiliated at having to solicit a stranger’s help to park a self-parking car in a space the size of the Hindenburg.

“Can I try?” said Ed as he got into the front seat. He pulled up next to a Honda, pressed the button, and, boom, the car began to cut the front wheels and ease itself into the space. It was as though someone had installed a car-wash track right there in the middle of the street. (I have trouble with those too.)Mike cheered, Ed beamed, and I sank more deeply into my genuine semi-aniline leather seat. I am a woman who cannot park a self-parking car. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t mention this to Mr. Wilson.