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road sage

Like any bad habit, it grew gradually. At first, it seemed like a harmless short cut. I'd only do it once in a while, I told myself, on special occasions or when dealing with a particularly difficult reality. Yet I underestimated how seductive a habit can become. How the lure of an easy fix would call to me more and more frequently. Soon, I would forget my old way of doing things. The easy way would be all I knew.

That, in essence, is how I forgot how to parallel park. No, perhaps forgot is not the right word, a loss of nerve would be a better description. Lacking moral fibre. Gradually then suddenly, I began to think twice before paralleling and would forgo tight squeezes in favour of larger spots. As any driver knows, when it comes to parallel parking, once you lose your nerve, you're done. You may as well hang up your keys and go home.

What a fall it was. For most of my life, I not only knew how to parallel park, I enjoyed it and looked for opportunities to back my car into a snug well-positioned space. I lived on a busy street in a big city and didn't have a garage. I had a permit and a minivan. On average, I parallel parked four or five times a day. Winter, spring, summer, fall. Rain, hail, snow, heat wave. Laughing, crying, yelling, singing.

Then she came into my life: a brand-new Dodge Grand Caravan.

Now, I generally like my cars the way I like my women: smart, patient and better-looking than me. "Cara" wasn't all those, but she was new and she was mine. Not a scratch on her. I took great care. In the parking lot, I sought out the furthest spot with the most empty spaces beside it. What was a little extra walking when I could spare my new car from dents and scratches? Sure, the guy getting out of his expensive ride looked at me a little funny when he noticed me taking the same care of "Cara" as he did his Porsche Panamera GTS but he didn't know what we had together.

The desire for the easy park, however, became addictive. The more I sought the easy way out, the less inclined I was to tackle a real parking challenge. Was that spot really big enough? Why not just drive down the block and pull in to open one.

Parallel parking, which had been a hobby of mine, became a chore. Did I really want to go to that trouble? This aversion was magnified by the fact that I'd moved on to a southbound one-way street with parking on the left-hand side. This meant that my parallel parks had to be done in reverse order. Instead of hard right and then hard left it was hard left and then hard right. It threw me. It threw my confidence. I began to question myself.

Then, the other week, I hit rock bottom. On a cold snowy night, I circled the block three times rather than execute a tight left-hand parallel park. To be fair, I was listening to the end of my favourite podcast, but still, it was a humiliating experience. I finally paralleled, albeit a bit awkwardly. When I was done I looked in the rear-view mirror. The man staring back at me needed to make some changes. Sure, I could buy a car loaded with a fancy technological device rigged with lasers and cameras to do my parking for me but what comes after that? A machine to chew my food?

From that moment forward, I knew I had to get back to basics. I had to seek out tough parallel parks and get my skill back. The key to a good park is not over-thinking it. It's like hitting a serve in tennis or throwing a football. You need to be focused but relaxed. It has to be no big deal. Turn on your signal. Check your mirrors, check your blind spot, and then let it rip. One and done.

So if you see a jet-black minivan circling the block, passing by wide open spaces, in search of tough parallel parks don't be alarmed. The driver isn't crazy. He isn't out to prove a point or show off his prowess. He's just trying to sharpen some old skills and let go of bad habits. One parallel park at a time.

Follow Andrew Clark on Twitter: @aclarkcomedy