Afterthoughts: All Backed Up

Seriously, Hawai‘i—why?

Sometimes, here on the Afterthoughts page, I have to take an unpopular position. Stand up for something right and true, even if everyone around me disagrees.


This month is one of those times. HONOLULU readers, Hawai‘i residents, drivers throughout the Islands, I beg you: Quit backing into parking stalls.


Reverse parking


I know it’s a habit that Hawai‘i has become known for. Drive through any local parking lot and you’ll see nothing but rows of headlights staring back at you. I have no idea how it got started, but it’s time we all come to our senses.


Because backing into a parking space is objectively worse than nosing in, both for the driver and for everyone around them. Let me count the ways.


First, it’s inherently trickier to reverse into a tight space bounded on either side by cars than it is to back out into the comparatively wide-open space of the parking lot access lane. Why subject yourself to an unnecessary drill of precision when you could do it the easy way? It takes longer, too, which brings me to my second point.


Honolulu parking lots are competitive, hectic shark tanks. The more quickly and efficiently each driver finds a space, the happier everyone will be. So it’s a clear inconvenience to all the drivers queued up behind you when you fake them out by driving past an open stall in order to position yourself, then throw it in reverse to back in. 


And third, parking in a normal stall is always going to be a zero sum game. No matter what, you’re going to have to reverse the car exactly once. What are you really gaining by reversing now instead of later? Live your life in the moment, I say, and take things as they come.


I realize this is an unpopular view. Asking around the magazine offices, it turns out I’m surrounded by backward parkers.


The most common reason given for reversing: wanting to be able to leave the stall faster and easier once you’re pau shopping. One person called the practice “combat parking.” I tend to think, unless you’re a literal bank robber, there’s no need for it, but, OK, at least there’s a psychological underpinning to this whole business.


In a Stephen Tsai sports column in the paper this October, UH football coach Nick Rolovich talked a little about how he prefers to have his team enter Aloha Stadium before a game: from the north end zone, exiting from buses that have reversed down the tunnel leading to the field. His rationale: “The symbolism there, to me, is like you’re loading the gun, putting the bullet in the chamber (by) backing in the buses. I always loved it.”


Now, admittedly I’m not a sports guy, or a combat guy, or a gun guy, but in this tunnel/gun barrel analogy, wouldn’t you want to point the gun toward the playing field?


In any case, readiness and preparation are admirable traits, and I guess I can sympathize with the idea that there can be virtue in a parking technique, even if I don’t agree on a practical level. After all, I’ve got my own personal parking rules that I like to think set me apart.


Chief among them: Keep moving! No camping! Some people post up and wait forever for the promise of a stall that’s about to open up, just because it happens to be close to the entrance of the store. Not me—in the shark tank of the parking lot, I’m a shark: swimming forward constantly, assured in the knowledge that another space is right around the corner.


No one’s going to hand me a medal for my parking, of course, but I like to think that at least I’m not getting in anyone’s way.


Next time you need to grab groceries, try this one thing for me: Pull into the stall nose-first. See if you don’t enjoy how easy and quick it is. I admit it’s a tiny thing, but it’s also good to be heading in the right direction.