A Garage Is Where You Park Your Car? Not Here in the Nation’s Capital

By Jack Limpert

Drinking coffee with a few DC journalists this morning we talked about the eight inches of snow expected overnight and I mentioned that one difference between Washington and Wisconsin, where I grew up, was that in Wisconsin we put our car in the garage. In our Washington neighborhood, every house has a garage but it’s a storage area—usually with barely enough room to walk. The cars are in the driveway or out on the street.

In our Wisconsin family we had two parents, five kids, and one car, a blue ’41 Buick, and I don’t remember a family in our town that had more than one car. Maybe it was because we couldn’t afford two cars but more likely it was because we had a one-car garage.  Back then nobody with any sense left a car out overnight in sub-zero Wisconsin weather.

Now on our Washington street everyone has two or three cars. In about half of the houses, there are two drivers and three cars—at least one a SUV. And when the plows come through tomorrow morning, the snow removal will be pretty haphazard because of all the parked cars.

I wondered if it was different in Wisconsin—do they now behave just like we do? So I emailed Jim Doherty, a former editor at Smithsonian magazine, who now lives in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Here’s our exchange.

We’re expecting eight inches of snow in Washington overnight so there is panic everywhere. Over coffee this morning I was talking to some writers and mentioned that one difference between Wisconsin and Washington is that people in Wisconsin keep their cars in the garage while in Washington I have never seen a car in a garage. Most houses here have garages but they’re full of garden tools and other stuff. On really cold winter nights in Wisconsin do you put the car in the garage?


That’s damned funny. An editor’s mind at work. If I were still at work myself, I’d insist you write an essay on garages.

Yes, my 2014 Subaru (all-wheel) Outback is in the garage not just on really cold nights, which we are enduring now, but most of the time during the winter, snow or not. My 2001 Ford Explorer (canoe carrier, wood hauler, dump truck) remains outside.

Why? Because our garage can accommodate only one vehicle plus bulk bird seed, two pairs of boat oars and several canoe paddles, two garbage cans, two book cases devoted to rock collections, assorted garden tools, three sprinklers, hoses, a telescoping apple picker, a dozen bushel baskets (stacked), a wire hanging basket stuffed with hawk, owl, eagle and turkey feathers, a pair of screen doors, five wood lobster-trap buoys scavenged decades ago in Downeast Maine, a BLM Iditarod sign from Alaska, a rusty circa 1930s U.S. Forest Service sign from the Gila National Forest in New Mexico (where a young ranger named Aldo Leopold shot a wolf later memorialized in one of his essays), several blue “ski trail” markers from the Chequamegon National Forest which, as you well know, is Up North, two Flexible Flyer sleds (one received by me as a Christmas present 70-some years ago) and a single ski pole.

We have had only one good blizzard so far this winter. Usually by this time our exceedingly long driveway resembles a canyon and backing the Subaru out of the garage is a challenge because the snowplow guy always manages to leave a formidable pile too damned close to the door.

It’s interesting DC folks don’t garage their cars because the few other families residing on our hilly rural road don’t, either. One, a farmer, has several pickup trucks and cars plus three tractors and all sit outside all winter long. Another neighbor’s yard (he’s a country lawyer) looks like a used-car lot and notwithstanding the fact he has a humongous barn, everything remains outside year-round. Beats me.

My parents and grandparents, and everybody else in Waukesha, always overwintered their cars in their garages. When I was growing up, one of the many chores assigned to me—lawn mowing, snow shoveling, garden weeding, you name it—was keeping our garage in good order. Didn’t just sweep it out every week but, weather permitting, had to hose it down, as well. Everything in there, tools and what have you, had a particular place. Anything that didn’t have a particular place didn’t belong there at all. Cobwebs were not permitted. A ship-shape garage was just something everybody in the neighborhood had, along with a tidy lawn, a friendly dog and a basketball hoop and backboard above the garage door.

I read in the paper the other day, Jack, that more than 500 sturgeon have been speared this winter in Lake Winnebago and Lake Poygan where your family used to recreate. That’s a helluva lot of caviar!  Or, as you fancy Easterners would have it, caviare.


P.S. Tonight in Wisconsin: Minus 7. Enjoy your 8 inches! We lived for many years in super-rural Castleton, in Rappahannock County. A couple of the best blizzards we’ve ever enjoyed happened there. Snowbound for days. One of the worst sounds we ever heard was Caterpillars working their way up our road.


  1. You’ve ignored city dwellers, few of whom have the luxury of garage space. And if they indeed do have indoor parking — or even a reserved outdoor spot in an alley in back of a town house — they either have paid a great deal to purchase that that small bit of real estate or lease it annually at a high rate. It’s all but impossible to find a spot to rent for under $300 a month. And it’s unavoidable, as street parking is so difficult to find; if one does secure a spot on the street, one never wants to move one’s car and lose one’s parking spot, instead often choosing to walk or take a cab or pubic transportation rather than giving up that rare spot!

  2. Betsy Banasik says

    Yes, in Wisconsin we park our car in the garage, even in the summer. We also have a shed for the lawn mower and a few other outdoor items. Katie and friends sometimes use it as their fort.

Speak Your Mind