News & Politics

Fair or Foul? Let’s Litigate This Case of Extremely Close City Parking.

Does this kind of bumper-to-bumper street parking violate the social contract? You make the call!

Squint and you'll see daylight. Photograph by Rob Brunner.

Look at the picture above. This is an unaltered image, taken today in DC by a Washingtonian staffer, of an extremely close bit of street parking.

Gut check: how does it make you feel? When is close … too close?

Let’s start with a fact. The cars are not touching. There’s a least a millimeter—or two, even!—of daylight between them. Does that make everything okay? Or does seeing this irritate you anyway? Is it a reminder of every time some other driver tapped your bumper, gave you no room to operate, left you doing a half-dozen or more mini-cuts of your steering wheel, back and forth and back again, just to extract yourself from what was otherwise a perfectly fine parking space? Is parking this close downright rude? Just a wee bit sociopathic? An egregious, unacceptable violation of the social contract, the unwritten laws and social niceties that keep us from going full Lord of the Flies when cart and foot traffic bunches up at the front of the Wegmans in City Ridge? Is the driver of the car on the left worthy of scorn? Guilty AF? A serial offender? Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I ask you to consider those preexisting bumper scratches.

But wait. Let’s add another fact. The cars are not boxed in by other cars. There are driveways on both sides: room on the left to drive out, and room on the right to back up. Does that mitigate matters? Change your mind? Upend your assumptions? Force you to reconsider, well, everything? Are you upset with yourself for being upset, without having a clear or full understanding of what you were seeing and reacting to? Is this image actually a metaphor for our post-truth information age hellscape, a chaotic infinite scroll where earnest idiots and bad faith actors alike are perpetually flooding the zone with shit—irresistible, attention-hijacking content nuggets that feel true and strike an emotional chord while intentionally or unwittingly leaving crucial context just outside the frame?

Only hold up. Maybe that’s wrong, too. Maybe parking this close is, in fact, bad, and the fault lies with the driver of the car on the right. Maybe said driver arrived after the car on the left was already parked, and even though pulling up so very, very close would prevent the driver of the left car from accessing their trunk, decided to roll right up to the line, anyway. That’s not illegal, of course. It’s also something that happens all the time on tight city streets. But maybe it shouldn’t! Maybe we should all be more considerate, go above and beyond the bare minimum of what we’ve learned to expect from each other. Maybe our social contact needs rewriting.

Or not. Probably, we’re overthinking this. Like 2015’s meme dress or the dark side cave in The Empire Strikes Back, there might be nothing more to this parking photo than what you bring to it. So what’s your take?

Patrick Hruby
Deputy Editor