A Day With Dave - Born to be Mild: Adventures in Parking

By David Volk

Some people lust after cars that inspire them to hit the road at top speeds on a sunny day with the roof down and the radio cranked up. Others drive cars that propel them to the mountains where they can hike and camp and fish. As for me, I just spent the weekend with a car that makes people want to park.

And I’m not talking about what you do in the back seat at Lover’s Lane, either.

Hell, there is no back seat.

Welcome to a Smart Car test drive.

It may look like a toy, but the gas-sipping (50 MPG!) 8-foot-long, 5-foot-tall European car made by Mercedes and Swatch (yes, that Swatch) has arrived  here, at the Green Car Co. in Kirkland. And it’s generating interesting reactions as I learned when I took it on a weekend test park.

“You’re going to drive THAT?” my wife exclaimed when she first saw the cute contraption. “Where do you wind it?” a neighbor joked. “What do you feed the squirrels?” another friend asked.

Laugh SUV-boy, but it’s a lean, mean parking machine and it was going to let me boldly park where I have never parked before. All I needed was a trusty sidekick, a Sancho Panza to my Don Quixote who would honestly tell me, “a little to the left, dude” because finding parking in Seattle truly is the impossible dream.  I recruited my friend Nick for the role.

But my wife had other ideas. First, she wanted to go on a ride, then her co-worker wanted to drive it and the next thing I knew, it seemed like she had invited all our neighbors for a ride. One at a time. After all, the car only has one passenger seat.

When Nick and I finally made good our escape,  the domelight went on.  No matter what we tried, we couldn’t turn it off. We accidentally solved that problem,  but in doing so I managed to activate the windshield wipers and couldn’t turn them off, either.

In a moment of desperation, I turned to a guy’s last resort: the instruction booklet.

Too bad it was written in Dutch. [yes, Dutch—I’m not sure why).

So, we limped from the south end to Capitol Hill with the wipers on even though it wasn’t raining. 

It didn’t take us long to find our quarry. An opening so small even a Cooper Mini couldn’t fit. It took three minutes, two bystanders and dozens of directions from my frustrated friend, but we finally pulled it off.  

Then I pulled out of the space and backed in so that the trunk was facing the curb, the hood was pointed into the street and it fit perfectly behind an SUV.

So, we did a little victory dance, took pictures and headed to Interstate 5.

On the highway, I hit 70 mph without a problem. There were times when the car seemed to be all over the lane, but with a vehicle this small, there’s still plenty of lane to go around.

I’m sure that most of the people on the highway who gave me a thumbs-up sign and cleared space for me to change lanes assumed I was driving the Smart Car because of its fuel efficiency. In short, I was their eco-hero.

I wasn’t about to burst their eco-bubble. And they weren’t about to ask why I was using my windshield wipers on a sunny day.

Smart Questions

Smart Cars are so rare in Seattle that anyone who drives one becomes an unintentional company spokesman. Complete strangers really do give thumbs-up signs, nod approval and roll down their windows to ask questions. Here’s what they want to know:

How many adults can squeeze inside?

Well, to be perfectly honest, I’m not as limber as I used to be and neither are my friends. It may be possible to fit in more by having people sit sideways with their legs stick out the windows, but our lumbago was bothering us and we weren’t about to take chances. So, let’s just say two.

Is it really legal to park with the front pointed out?

Yes. If there are no painted lines indicating where to park and a parking sign doesn’t specifically say “parallel parking only,” you can have it your way. 

Does the company offer any anti-theft measures?

Yes, it has removed the handle and no longer offers a handy carrying case.

Who should buy the car?

Drivers who are having trouble meeting people and anti-social van owners who are tired of having friends ask them for help moving.

How much does it cost?

Only $26,000. That may not sound cheap, but considering the cost of gasoline these days, you should be able to pay it off by next Tuesday.