At North Salem High School, seniors mark their spots.


Photo: Sarah Gayden

A faint smell of paint wafts through the late summer air outside of North Salem High School, as sure a signal as any that a new school year is about to begin. For North Salem High School seniors, personalizing their parking spot is a rite of passage that many students eagerly anticipate from the moment they pass their written driver’s test.

Last Friday evening, Riannon Perlongo and her mom, Karen, were crouched over Riannon’s spot, using painter's tape to frame out a design. There are 2,340 days in a K-12 public education. For the last 180 of Perlongo’s, space 31 is where she will begin and end each of those days.

Riannon, like so many other North Salem High School Students, has eagerly anticipated having her own parking spot at the school. With a license and a spot, she will have more freedom to come and go on her terms.

When considering the design of her spot, Perlongo immediately thought of Taylor Swift, whose music has made a significant impact on her life. Swift’s song, “Getaway Car,” was a natural choice. Perlongo sees her car and, to a degree, her last year of high school as her own personal ‘getaway car,’ a vehicle to take her from where she began to where she’s headed next after high school.

Before putting paint to pavement, Perlongo first sketched her intended design. She drew a twisting road, a city skyline, and left room for a rendering of her car.

Students must submit designs for their parking spots to school administration for approval. The designs, along with a copy of a student’s driver’s license and proof of ‘parking points’ - safety videos about driving that students must watch–all must be submitted and approved before a space number is assigned.

After Perlongo’s approvals came through, she and her mom made a trip to Home Depot to pick up paint, brushes, tape and other supplies. It took two days and several coatings of white paint to cover over the previous spot occupant’s design.

With a fresh canvas, the mother-daughter duo returned to the school campus for a third day of work. Mom Karen has been by Riannon’s side through so many school projects over the years, but this one, such a clear signal of independence, has been especially bittersweet.

“I’m proud of her,” said Karen. “This one’s going to hurt more than the first one,” she said, explaining that Perlongo is the younger of her two daughters. “When you’re sending your baby away…” she said, before looking off into the distance, eyes welling with tears of bittersweet pride.

Perlongo looked over at her mom with a smile. She could see how meaningful this moment was for her mom and she knew, too, how much it signaled about her own year ahead, her last at home. But Perlongo’s eyes continued to be drawn back to her parking spot–a work in progress with a winding white path cut through the middle, promising unknown adventures.

“You raise them for this,” Karen said. “It’s sad, but they’re doing what you hopefully raised them right to do.”

Photo by Sarah Gayden

Click below to view more senior parking spots. >>

Photo by Sarah Gayden
Photo by Sarah Gayden
Photo by Sarah Gayden
Photo by Sarah Gayden
Photo by Sarah Gayden
Photo by Sarah Gayden
Photo by Sarah Gayden
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