Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear

(Originally published March 5, 2010 at playgroupwithsylviaplath.com)

As if anyone needed proof, it’s been a really long winter…
Like many in his gender, Slim likes to throw around numbers, statistics and dates the way most women can be dropped in a grocery store like a military recon mission and know instinctively where the produce, eggs and bread are located. (And need we even ask the question, which one of these skills actually keeps the family fed?)

A few weeks ago, he floated this one out there. “Did you know that forty percent of women have had car accidents in their own garages?”

Seasoned by his particular line of baiting, I immediately brushed him off with a convincing, “That is ridiculous. That is totally made up.”

“No, it’s true,” he went on. “And you know what else, 100% of those women think it’s not funny.”

I thought this would set off a round of women screwing in light bulb jokes, or a discussion of the years-old claim that a woman over 40 was more likely to be killed by a terrorist than get married.

But no, he was content to stick with women challenged by the confines of their own homes, or rather garages.

“If you don’t believe me, prove it,” he said.

Happily rising to the defense of my gender, I checked with insurance agents, drivers ed instructors, homebuilders, commercial parking lot designers, and body shop specialists. None could give me any hard data on the postulation.

However, they were each happy to share countless stories of women drivers who had indeed come in too close contact with their own domestic structures.

“It happens all the time,” said my local body shop, which repairs over 1,000 cars a year. “It’s always, ‘I didn’t see the car,’ ‘I didn’t see the pole,’ or ‘I didn’t see the wall.’”

As for those walls that seem to jump out of nowhere, builders told me of routinely having to return to clients’ homes to repair the door frames, garage doors, the actual garage walls, side-jambs, and even the drywall at the front of garages that bumpers mysteriously break through.

Over the last few decades, garages and their attendant doors have steadily grown to meet the demands of larger cars, and perhaps increasingly distracted drivers. A standard double car garage door used to be 16 feet wide by 7 feet high. With many SUVs and minivans measuring in at over 6 feet high, 6 feet wide, and a whopping 18-plus feet long, that would be a tight squeeze.

Garage doors are now made a standard 8 feet high and are commonly broken down into two 9 or 10 feet wide his and hers bays. Plenty of room for a $600 collapsible stroller to be moved without collapsing.

It would appear, however, that this additional width might not have solved the problem.

Although I’m no statistician, I built a few spreadsheets in my day and can certainly collect a set of data. So, I farmed the question out to 25 friends and family across the country – trying to account for city dwellers and suburban types, number of kids, size of vehicle and even style of driver. Yes, I’m equipped to judge my circle.

I’ve looked for all kinds of angles to spin the data, but sadly, it comes out that nearly 70% of women have had some type of altercation with their own garage, driveway or mailbox.

And a note to many of my friends who started their replies with “no” and followed that with “however,” “except,” and “actually.” You could have just skipped the “no” part.

Buried in the numbers, replies and explanations, there were some real treasures. I promised to protect the innocents, but these are my people and this is why I love them:

I clipped both side view mirrors without leaving my property.

I took out the whole tail end of my car when I backed into a concrete planter. Stupid thing shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

My second incident was when I backed the Volvo wagon out of the garage with the ski rack on top. Put two perfect circular holes in the garage door that was hanging above the car.

Addendum to the note to friends: numbering your incidents is not in your best interest.

I didn’t judge how far the boat trailer stuck out in the driveway, and it ended up right in the back seat through the hatch.

If it’s worth getting there, it’s worth getting there fast. I had my pedal down all the way while backing straight out of my curving driveway and a huge tree popped out of nowhere to shatter my back window.

Actually, the only driving altercation I’ve ever had was in our driveway—backed right into another vehicle. What can I say? It was where I needed to go.

Of course there was the time I was multitasking and forgot to close the back hatch before I exited the garage. Calling my husband was not one of my favorite phone calls to make…

And let’s face it, once you’ve made that phone call, explaining the incident to the insurance agent is easy.

“Oh sure, we get a lot of claims of women hitting their garage doors,” said an Allstate specialist. “But the highest claims we see from women are probably parking lot instances.”

Ah yes, the challenge of maneuvering a beast of a vehicle into a 9 foot opening, while reading an email that lacrosse practice has moved fields and your eight-year-old explains that he didn’t mean to spit his gum in your hair. He was just laughing so hard.

Well, parking lots are no laughing matter.

China is not exactly the first nation that springs to mind when you hear “female-friendly.” (This is where my kids would say, cough–cough, one-child policy, female infanticide.) However, the nation hit the news several weeks ago after a shopping center opened a dedicated “car park for women.”

The parking lot’s spaces are three feet wider and the lines are painted in pink and light purple to “cater to women’s strong sense of color and different sense of distance,” according to officials.

The news set off accusations of gender stereotyping and sexism round the globe. Sure, it’s a bit presumptuous and debasing. But, ladies stop with the doth protesting too much. What’s wrong with bigger parking spaces? At our golf club, there’s a flat screen television in the men’s locker room but none in the ladies. And trust me, Slim’s not clamoring for change saying “Hey, that’s sexist.”

Besides that would just encourage my middle, who received the movie Spinal Tap for his 10th birthday, to say, “What’s wrong with being sexy?”

I decided to see if these generous parking spaces were going to become an international trend. And for that, my local mall took me straight to the top. The King Of Prussia Mall is the largest retail space in the country (apologies to Mall of America, an indoor amusement park doesn’t count as shopping).

With over 13,000 parking spaces, I was curious, would they be widening any of them with their largely female consumer base in mind? But alas, no. No larger spaces and no light purple lines, although they do have valet parking and shuttle bus service during the holiday season.

So, as much as Slim would like me to end with: “And my husband was right.” I think I’d rather leave you with an observation from a wise drivers ed instructor.

“One thing I notice with drivers is that there is more or less an inverse relationship. The brighter the person, the more difficulty they have picking up some of the basic concepts of backing out and parking.”

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