If there is one thing that Southern Californians hate almost as much as the ever-worsening freeway gridlock, it's the frustrating daily search for a convenient parking spot.
Want proof? Consider the proliferation of valet parking services. In Los Angeles, you can find the guys in the little red vests parking cars in front of airports, condos, restaurants, shopping malls and even a few gyms.
Let's face it, a well-located empty parking space is as valuable to Angelenos as free Botox injections. So, you can imagine the frustration Mimi Wong of Los Angeles felt recently when she and her husband found an empty spot in front of a Pasadena movie theater, only to find a guy standing in the space, holding it for his wife. Wong wrote to Behind the Wheel to say that she was tempted to turn the guy into a human speed bump.
Question: So, who's legally entitled to the parking space? The person with the bigger car? Or the person carrying a gun (this being L.A.)?
Answer: Parking spaces serve motorists on a first-come, first-served basis. But the California Vehicle Code is silent on whether a pedestrian can hold a parking space for a motorist. Traffic officials say this is a common dispute that the opposing parties must settle with diplomacy and courtesy. Don't laugh, it could happen.
If all else fails, Sgt. Bill Urrutia of the Los Angeles Police Department said you can call police and report the pedestrian for violating Vehicle Code Section 21956 (a), a pedestrian standing in the roadway, which is a $76 fine.
In Wong's case, she said she got the spot after her husband got out of the car and asked the guy holding the space to kindly move on. She pointed out that her husband is 6 feet, 4 inches tall.
That is another tactic: Speak softly and brandish a big hubby.
Speaking of rudeness on the road, Patti Newton of Altadena wrote to complain about a motorist who cut in front of her on the Foothill Freeway, barely missing her front bumper.
She was so incensed by this dangerous move that she flashed her high beams. The other driver responded by slamming on the brakes, coming to a complete stop.
Luckily, Newton avoided a collision, but wondered what would have happened if she had accidentally rammed into the other car.
Q: If there had been a big pileup, would I have been responsible because I flashed my brights or the guy who stopped on the freeway?
A: Incidents like this happen all the time on Southern California freeways.
Harry Ryon, a retired LAPD sergeant who specialized in accident investigations, said that in such a case, the driver who slammed on his brakes could be found guilty of making an unsafe lane change and causing an accident.
He said this sounds like a clear case of aggressive driving. Still, he warns motorists not to get drawn into a tit-for-tat with other drivers.
"When someone does something stupid, let them get away with it," Ryon said. "If you do that, they will be in your life for a few seconds. If you do anything to provoke the aggressive driver, he could be in your life for years."
On the topic of aggressive drivers, Bruce McCormick of Los Angeles thinks that some of the worst offenders are motorcyclists.
He complained about motorcyclists who keep their high beams on all the time, blinding other motorists.
Q: Do they do it to get other drivers to move out of their way? Regardless, it is distracting, dangerous and could lead to accidents or road rage.
A: Motorcyclists must abide by the same headlight laws as auto drivers, and should dip their beams as soon as other motorists come into view. A rider who comes at you, high beam blazing, is rude and breaking the law.
Still, T.W. McGarry, a veteran journalist and experienced motorcyclist, noted that for decades California has required all motorcycles to always operate with their headlights on.
For good reason. Nearly two-thirds of all car-motorcycle collisions are blamed on what the Federal Highway Traffic Safety Administration calls "the conspicuity factor." That means the auto driver didn't see the motorcycle, or looked right at it, but somehow it didn't register.
"The result is that motorcyclists are more worried about making themselves conspicuous than you are," McGarry said. "We'd rather you see us than like us. And some riders get out of the habit of thinking of the headlight controls because the light is simply on all the time."
He added: "You see, there are reasons. Can we all try to get along?"
Meanwhile, Diana Gutierrez of Whittier is having trouble getting along with a neighbor whose car has become a permanent fixture on her street.
The owner of the car moves it a few feet every week, so, technically speaking, it has not been in the same spot. Gutierrez wonders what she can do about it.
Q: At what point does it become an abandoned vehicle and when can you call someone to tow it?
A: For Gutierrez, good news: You can get rid of that junker in three days. State law says you cannot park a vehicle on a public street for more than 72 hours.
If you call your local parking enforcement department, they will post a warning on the car. If the traffic cop comes back 72 hours later and the odometer has not moved, the car gets towed.
More parked-car news: A recent survey by Jiffy Lube International and Harris Interactive confirmed what all those classic rock ballads preached -- a warm car seat is one of the best settings for romance.
According to the survey of more than 1,000 Americans:
* 62% went on their first solo date in a car.
* 34% had their first romantic kiss in a car.
* 36% had an "intimate encounter" in a car.
* 14% had their first "intimate encounter" in a car.
* 13% proposed marriage or were proposed to in a car.
But, sadly, romance doesn't last forever. Nearly 30% of those surveyed said they have broken up with someone in a car.
If you have a gripe, question or story idea, send a letter to Behind the Wheel c/o the Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012; or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.