A lot of parallels in summer

Many learn to park on school's grounds

August 20, 2005|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,SUN STAFF

Summer has a way of transforming the most nondescript places into something special -- even the small parking lot of Dumbarton Middle School in Rodgers Forge.

Over the years, this place has become a destination for countless high school kids who use their vacation to learn to drive. Adults appreciate this summer place because it provides the essentials for teenage instruction: It's safely removed from peers and virtually indestructible.

Last week, it bore witness to the education of Becca Hindman. Like thousands of teens before her, the 16-year-old sought to overcome a terror as primitive and predictable as Baltimore humidity: fear of parallel parking.

Becca was handling a small silver Hyundai bearing the large red words STUDENT DRIVER. Her companion was instructor Pat Wiglesworth of B&E Driving School, a man who has taught about 1,000 students to drive and brought three-quarters of them to this lot.

Although the teen had possessed her learner's permit for several months, this was her first drive with an actual professional. Mr. Wigs made it easy with his low-key advice and funny stories. And, as a Dumbarton grad, she was comfortable with her surroundings.

Turning onto the school driveway, Becca saw the fields where she'd practiced field hockey and the buildings where she'd prepped for life at Towson High. The red storage shed was the same. So was the rec league building, the school and the soccer field.

She'd pulled into this lot hundreds of times with her parents. But now that she was driving, things looked different. Was it the five traffic cones looming ahead? Or that rectangle of parallel parking pavement measuring 6 feet by 25 feet?

She inched the Hyundai forward. "You have plenty of room," Mr. Wigs assured her. "The main thing is don't knock the poles or the cones over or go up over the curb. ... The examiner gives you three minutes to get in, which is a ton of time, and two minutes to get out. Just relax. People think they have to rush, and that's where they make their mistakes."

Her first parallel parking lesson had begun. Befitting the ritual of phys ed instruction, the ensuing conversation was mostly one way. Mr. Wigs suggested adjustments to her movements that would, hopefully, become automatic.

"Put your right signal on -- click, click, click -- to let everybody know you're going to park."

"Should I go in this way?"

"No, no. You've got to pull up and back in with parallel parking. See that yellow pole there, the one closest to us? Put the car in reverse and as soon as that pole's in the middle of this back window, stop the car. Look over your right shoulder first. Come back, come back, come back, come back -- Stop! Now, look over your left shoulder. ... As soon as you see the first pole that comes in your view in the center of this window here, then stop.

"Now come on back."

Chewing her gum furiously, Becca turned the wheel all the way to the left, creeping back until the car seemed straight.

Mr. Wigs opened the door to look at the curb.

"Your front's in, but your back's out a little bit. ... If you do the natural thing and turn the car all the way to the right, you're going to get your front end in, but guess what's still going to stick out?"

He showed her how to rectify the situation -- a formula that required several more turnings of the wheel, both left and right, more reversing and more straightening.

"You're within an inch away," he reported. "Now you want to back up. Good! Go back into drive, turn the wheel all the way to the left. Now, click, click, click, look, look, look -- and out you go!"

And that was that.

"It's a miracle!" Mr. Wigs high-fived his student. "Beginner's luck!"

Becca looked out the window, grinning as if she found this view of the parking lot particularly beautiful.

"It'll be a lot different in a big car though," she said, thinking of her parents' Ford Expedition. "A lot harder."

"You'll use the same method no matter what kind of car. You can do it with a truck," the instructor promised. "So let's do it again."

She did. Then she did it a third time.

Then, as Mr. Wigs consulted his watch, Becca brought the car between the cones for her fourth successful attempt.

"Up to this point, you've done it in under 43 seconds," he announced with enthusiasm. "It's not so bad, is it?"

Becca remained skeptical. Only later, as Mr. Wigs watched her pull the same trick on "real" cars on a "real" street did she let herself believe that she might one day soon, hopefully by the middle of September, pass her driving test.

First, however, she would return to the middle school parking lot -- and make it all happen again.

To read other articles in this series, go online to baltimoresun.com/places.

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