Friday, February 29, 2008

We know you're not from around here

Here being the City of Chicago. This is how we can tell: you nose your car into your garage. It’s a dead give-away you were raised in Suburbia or Michigan or Peru—someplace, anyplace, that’s not here.

When my husband and I got our first garage parking space at our old apartment on Newport, I remember him wanting to nose the car in (He’s from out of town.) and I had to set him straight. “It’s not the way we do it here.”

I went off on some explanation of how it’s safer to back the car into the garage because then you don’t have to blindly back it out into the alley. And how it’s…it’s…well, it’s just how we do it here. It’s how I was taught. It’s the way the neighbors do it. It’s the way my parents always parked at our old two-flat on Springfield. Always. And it’s a habit that’s been apparently very difficult for them to break. They moved to the suburbs nearly forty years ago and even though they have a 120-foot driveway that opens onto a quiet residential street, Mom and Dad still back their cars 120 feet into that garage.

All up and down our alley I notice the people who nose-in versus back-in to their garages. All the old-timers back-in. All the younger couples nose-in. Except for us. Because I’m from around here.

But this especially snowy winter I’ve had to, on occasion, gulp: nose-in. I know. I’m terrified someone might think I’m from Michigan too! But I came to the realization, a different realization than my “it’s safer” rationale, as to why we all learned to back our cars into our Chicago garages: rear-wheel drive. In the olden days, almost all cars were rear-wheel drive. And it made sense if you were navigating an icy snow-packed Chicago alley in the dead of winter that you’d need your “driving” wheels to pull you into your space. Which is why, this winter, I was forced to nose-in. My car has front wheel drive. As do most cars made these days, except for those fancy high-performance cars that don’t adapt so well to family life (or at least that’s what I tell myself.) (Then again, 0 to 60 in 4.89 seconds could probably plaster an eleven-year old against a seat so firmly he’d be rendered unable to bruise his brother’s ribs with a spelling book. Hmmm.)

Anyway, my point is maybe all these whippersnappers pulling into their garages nose-first are onto something. One day after getting stuck in the alley and having to rock the car ad nauseum, I almost gave up and parked on the street, until it occurred to me to pull in nose-first. Worked like a charm.

It’s not a habit I want to get into, however. There’s something very satisfying about backing a vehicle into a tight garage space in only one try, without having to jockey it back and forth. Perhaps the only reason this might be satisfying is that it so rarely happens when my kids are in the car. For reasons similar to my husband’s need to turn off the radio when performing a particularly harrowing driving maneuver, I find myself screaming at my boys to stop asking so many questions while Mommy’s trying to shear off the imitation wood trim from the side of the door—I mean park the car in the garage.

So as soon as that alley clears of snow piles, ice ridges and Khumbu-style seracs (June?) you can rest assured, I’ll be back to backing in—because I wouldn’t want anyone to get the wrong impression—that I actually like the imitation wood-trim on my garage.

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