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Wednesday, Mar. 09, 2005
I was about a thousand words into a diatribe about the cost of living versus the wages being paid to workers in the wood industry but had to call it off. Besides making me depressed with the subject matter it was starting to sound pithy. And lord knows we don’t need that.

I’m still doing way too much sitting around. Work contracts are just tough to come by right now and the ones that are available are of the loathsome variety. (“Hey, why not come on out to an industrial plant, wallow in the coal dust and fix our screwed up doors all day for a couple of weeks? We don’t know you nor do we pay all that well but hey, you just look like our kind of guy!”)

There was a time when I got paid for sitting on my then diminutive ass for eight hours. The dream job of the underemployed, it was. I hung in there with it for almost two years, even met my wife-to-be because of it.

I got it by answering an ad in the paper when I was about 19, getting into college after laying out for a year after high school. Sounded intriguing enough, they wanted a detail oriented person who could work odd shifts on a part time basis.

Watching over, like a mother hen, the antics of a few dozen cars in a hotel parking lot. Why, they had a booth and a ticket machine and gates and everything. If it wasn’t for the cash register I might have imagined I’d hit an office job. With a sliding window on both sides.

The company was and still is headquartered in NYC, where parking is a religion and the money for which lines the pockets of various mobsters, I suppose. How or why they chose to take on a few lots in a growing Southern city was never brought up. In fact, a good many things were never brought up, the fellow I applied to asked if I could add and subtract and took a handwriting sample, shrugged and led me to the parking booth. That was about the extent of my training.

30 cents for an hour of parking, 60 for two and so on. Collect, make change, hit the gate button. Then wait 30 minutes for the next victim. At the end of the midnight shift, walk around and record the plate numbers from all the remaining cars, lift the gate for good and go home. Thinking guests would wait until I was gone before they hopped in their car and took their leave, often for days worth of parking, for free.

And since it was a 4 star hotel, the rest of them didn’t seem to mind the fare one bit. I read my magazines, dozed a bit every now and then, and watched the traffic go by. Life was good.

I must have done well, because after a few months I was transferred to the only other lot that these boys had in town. At the biggest hospital in the area.

Now, paying 30 cents to run into a classy hotel for an hour and eat dinner is one thing. Paying thirty cents to run into a hospital and visit a sick friend is quite another. I went from cordially greeting society dames in Cadillacs to having stare downs with large men in Chevys. And I wasn’t alone this time, either. There were four of us in a row of booths. You could guarantee that at least once an hour, an uproar would be heard along the lines of “What? You mean I gotta pay for keeping my kid in this dump and pay for parking here too? This is ridiculous!”

I couldn’t argue the point, it seemed pretty indecent of a health care firm to charge astronomical rates inside the hospital and then soak you on the way out too. It wasn’t the fault of the parking company, the hospital wanted them there as a crowd control thing and baby, when visiting hours were over you never saw such a crowd. There’d be nights when I had two or three hundred bucks in the till.

They shifted me over to a smaller lot on the hospital grounds for the weekend and that’s really where I preferred to be. Since *cough* it was primarily a nurses lot, over on the Children’s Hospital side of things. When you’re nineteen or twenty years old, single, and sitting out in a parking lot booth you watch for nurses. I got to be damned good at it.

They’d stop to chat and flirt on the way out in their cars, I suspect they felt safe from the lecherous leers that no doubt radiated out of that booth as long as they had a foot handy to the gas pedal and I stayed inside. So we got along just fine. Come Christmas time some of them even thought to bring cookies or, on more than one memorable occasion, a bottle of booze for the parking guy.

But when Ally started coming through she brought all that to a screeching halt.

She was working part time as well, a secretary for her department up on the forth floor. Being a sensible parking guy, I waited darn near a month before making my move with a line borrowed from Melvin, a fellow nurse-baiter-in-arms over at the main lot. “When you gonna take me home, baby?”

See the beauty in that? Lonely guy stuck out in the middle of a parking lot in a 4 x 4 booth (and for all Ally knew, I was going to be there forever), wanting to escape and reaching out to a comely wench (with a car, no less) in a no nonsense sort of way. It was the stuff of Harlequin novels, I tell ye.

I don’t remember what she replied the first time I tried that. Probably just floored it and took off. But a good parking guy is nothing if not persistent. The second time, or maybe the third, she gave me a quizzical look and said, “You’re serious, aren’t you.”

Never knew what hit her. Big thumbs up to you Melvin, wherever you are.

I worked that gig right up to my wedding day 9 months later and for years thereafter I’d wake up in the middle of the night thinking “Oh jeez, I missed my shift! Wonder if I still got a job . . .” in the way that doing something boring for a long time will get under your skin and make you remember every boring minute of it. Trapped in the same spot for eight hours, gleaning every possible scrap from your magazine or book, counting the till a dozen time over. It still leaves huge chunks of time to sit and do absolutely nothing but listen to the clock tick over.

Kind of like what I’m doing today, for that matter.

But I’m still the best customer you’ll ever have if you’re a parking lot attendant. I know the drill. Takes a special breed, it does.

Just don’t ask me to take you home. Baby.

Ah, the old homestead.

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