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Confessions of a parallel parking champion

Plus, 'ex-mayor eats soup from pothole.'

June 17, 2022
Inside this edition: Parking challenge accepted, PA UFO, personal PennDOT, Juneteenth, Father's Day, and 'Soil Your Undies' for science.

In light of this week's extraterrestrial news, a question: What town has been dubbed "The Roswell of Pennsylvania"? 

(We'll have a real stumper in this space each week. You'll find the answer at the bottom, but don't miss all the good stuff in between.)

» One thing worth doing: Pennsylvania environmental groups want you to "Soil Your Undies" for science, WLVR reports. Turns out burying a pair of cotton undies can tell us a lot about Pa.'s dirt. Get soiling here.

» One thing worth buying: The PennDOT dump truck of your dreams is available at this month's commonwealth online heavy equipment auction, Justin Sweitzer of City & State tweeted. Bidding starts Monday.

» One date worth saving: The Gang is hosting a live taping of their wildly popular "The Always Sunny Podcast" at The Met in Philadelphia on Sept. 18, per Philly Voice. Tickets are on sale. Try for a free pair here

» One thing worth seeing: Of all the disorienting AI renderings produced by the internet this week, why is one of ex-Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto eating soup from a pothole the most unnerving?

» One place worth watching: One-hundred grand has been set aside to turn the decades-running pop-up Cambodian market at South Philadelphia's FDR Park into a permanent fixture, WHYY reports.

» COVID-19 UPDATE: Keep up with our coronavirus tracker, or find where to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

» Pa. panel punts on gun bills in wake of mass shootings

» Experts say Pa. transgender athlete bills are 'anti-evidence'

» Public records fight threatens a novel rural broadband push

» The bipartisan push to cut corporate taxes in Pa., explained
(Photos courtesy of @pghparkingchamp)

I could have been a contender. Unfortunately my remote audition for the Pittsburgh Parallel Parking Championship started off disastrously, and I was instantly disqualified for mounting the curb. 

Kevin “Frank” Fisher, pictured below, actually won this year’s championship in Lawrenceville with a blistering 8.50-second finish and knows where I went wrong. 

He said it comes down to geometry (this GIF explains), temperament (clear mind, smooth start, can’t lose), a lifetime of practice, and this: “I’m not going to say I’m not a good parallel parker,” Frank added by phone, “but I think luck was definitely on my side that day.”

It's technically true: He stumbled upon Saturday’s contest while driving a QX70 Infiniti. His other car is a freightliner-like ‘73 Cadillac Eldorado. 

But in the amount of time it took me to write this sentence, Frank whipped his still-sizable SUV into a 20-foot parking space (Pa. DMV tests use 24 feet), leaving a hair’s breadth between his wheels and the curb. Considering all of the invisible, intuitive math involved, I’d call that "dumb luck" very smart. 

All of the vehicular variables are carefully accounted for, organizer Dan Leber explained. 

There’s an "equalizer formula" to balance the feat against the vast variety of automobile sizes out there. (Only super compact smart cars are banned outright.)  

“This year we actually had a large, like, Ram 1500 that made a remarkable attempt,” Dan added.  

There are no restrictions on the use of parking-aid sensors or self-parking vehicles. If anything, Dan said, those are a competitive liability. 

“You can use whatever aid you have. It’s not going to make you any quicker, in fact, it’s going to make you slower,” he explained. “And the formula is 90% your speed and the distance of your farthest tire from the curb.”  

Dan, an inventory quality supervisor by day, has hosted two parking championships so far, drawing roughly 100 people combined. The idea for the event — which has no sponsors, no entry fee, and makes Dan no money — came to him years ago. With a surplus of downtime on his hands during the pandemic, he brought the idea to life.

“For whatever reason my family has always been quick to comment on or judge other folks’ parallel parking, in our own family, I mean,” he said. “And everyone has had that experience when you’re alone and you crush a spot and it’s perfect and there’s no one around to witness it."

The championship then is a bit of both — the schadenfreude of parking failures like mine and the unparalleled bliss of a center-stage triumph, all wrapped into a single afternoon under the sun in one of Pittsburgh’s most heavily trafficked neighborhoods. 

“There’s some traffic. Some people get angry. But I love that,” Dan said. “That’s what real life is. People get upset when you take too long.” 

I sent three video clips of myself parking in a regulation 20-foot space to Dan for feedback. While one of my secondary attempts was decent and would’ve come close to earning me a spot on the podium Saturday — “fourth place overall with a score of 26.09,” Dan said — my first attempt would have disqualified me immediately. “Come back next year,” he added. 

I may just do that. (There’s no date yet, but watch here for updates.) 

Frank will be there.

“A couple of my friends said you know people are gonna want to take you down now,” he said. “And that’s what I told Dan when I met him to pick up my trophy. I said I don’t think I have a choice.”

Colin Deppen, Spotlight PA

Calming colors, via Nora O. Send us your Pennsylvania pics by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania

» All weekend: Sunday is Juneteenth and celebrations are happening in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, State College, Chambersburg, and beyond. Henry Louis Gates Jr. explains the day's significance.

» Friday, June 17: Walk among the bats on an educational evening walk in Little Buffalo State Park that's all about the flying mammals. It's free. 

» Friday, June 17: Keep your eyes on the skies at the 32nd annual Thurston Classic Hot Air Balloon Event In Meadville. It's free.

» Saturday, June 18: Feed donuts to cows and yourself at the Cider Donut Festival in Ronks. Admission is $16.95 in advance.

» Saturday, June 18: Catch The Winter's Tale in June at the 29th annual Free Shakespeare in the Park fest at Harrisburg's Reservoir Park.

» Sunday, June 19: It's also Father's Day. Take dad on a Turnpike history road trip and see if gas prices or the Turnpike Commission come up. 

» Sunday, June 19: Hit the water with the Conestoga River Club for a petroglyphs paddle around the Indian Rock islands of Lake Aldred.
If the truth is out there, it might as well be in Kecksburg, the Westmoreland County town where, legend has it, an acorn-shaped UFO crash-landed in the 60s. A monument marks the spot, an annual festival the vibe.

A few souls claimed to have laid eyes on it there: a strange-looking, VW Beetle-sized metallic vessel with hieroglyphic-like markings. 

But before they knew it, the story goes, the military swooped in and the object was gone. Authorities say nothing was found there and that the preceding fireball spotted in the skies over Kecksburg — and several other states — was probably just a run-of-the-mill meteorite.

Lots of skeptical theories remain.

The search for information about Kecksburg never really stopped. In 2003, it prompted a lawsuit against NASA that uncovered new details about an Air Force operation, Project Moon Dust, that Vice calls a "sustained effort to recover objects and debris from spacecraft that had crashed to Earth."

If you want to go deeper on Kecksburg, like way deeper, the annual UFO festival, hosted by the local fire department, is happening next month

Thanks for reading PA Local! We'll see you back here next week. But first ... send us your feedback. What did you like? What didn't you like? What do you want to see more of? Or, tell us your secret food recipes!
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