x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Parking puts me in a tight spot

The early-morning lessons begin to take their toll on our learner driver. But with gear changes under his seat belt, he gets a chance to accelerate to a speedy 10kph.

Kareem tries hard to focus on the mirror as his instructor takes him through a spot of parking.
Kareem tries hard to focus on the mirror as his instructor takes him through a spot of parking.

I confess I'm losing interest. The apathy began to creep in when the practicality of having and driving a car to work started getting balanced out by the sheer willpower needed to wake up at 6am every day of Ramadan to make it on time for my class.

The exercises were getting repetitive, but that was necessary in order to get a feel for the car. Every time I missed a lesson or two I felt I was falling behind, the road to the licence stretching out ahead of me with no end in sight. Why was it taking so long to do something interesting with the car? The process had moved from the novelty of learning something new to the grind and rigour of repetition, but I was far from perfecting anything. Every class I missed meant I slipped a little bit.

Still, it was time to strap in and learn how to park. It is easy to see the necessity of learning how to manoeuvre through tight parking spots by taking a stroll through any side street in Abu Dhabi. Illegally parked cars litter the road. This was going to be as practical a training session as any. There were four or five different parking methods, it seemed. I started out with a straightforward simulation of trying to parallel park between two cars.

The idea was to stop next to the car in front and slowly move back into the empty spot, and use all of the car's mirrors to make sure I didn't bump into anything. Sometimes I was too close to the pavement, other times I got it just right, and it felt really good. I was moving beyond the routine of getting the order of the clutch-brake-gear shuffle right. I was still stalling the car, but those movements and routines were becoming second nature. That was a good sign - and there was more fun to be had. All of a sudden I had to drive out to a rather large square, with the mandate to get to third gear and even use the accelerator.

Before I knew it, I was speeding down the square at 10 kph. Shifting gears was starting to come naturally and less violently, but I had yet to pick up what the instructor called the "habit" - constantly glancing at the mirrors. I had to try out all the other parking techniques though, so I'd stop every now and then to do so. I tried out some 90-degree parking turns, as well as getting into a 45 degree parking spot that was amusing because it had to be approximated.

"Ninety per cent of driving is based on feeling," said Faris Salman, my instructor at the Emirates Driving Company in Musaffah, who deserves credit for making me a more relaxed "driver", if I dare use that term yet to refer to myself. He emphasised a couple of the parking styles, telling me that they often showed up on tests. That reminded me that there was a climax, a culmination to this sputtering effort to learn how to control a large steel casing on a road filled with lots of other steel casings. It still seemed a long distance away.

The course I drove on was two-way, so that was an added complication. But I had yet to drive in sustained traffic, to get stuck in a traffic jam, to stop at a traffic light. What I did try out was doing hard braking, emergency stops and using right and left indicators. It was a bit like fiddling with new toys, and I could barely resist randomly flicking them. I'll get over it. @Email:kshaheen@thenational.ae