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Friday, December 10, 2010

Secret Lives of Parking Attendants

Thanks to my blog follower Spambot3049.q5fjksr.t90.tja.ji0yj, who maintains his secret identity, and surprisingly, leaves no spam.  He pointed out that I was an interesting writer for a former parking attendant. Mr Spambot was pointing out how easily overlooked the talents  or character of an individual maybe, until circumstances change.  I noted then that many of the parking attendants I had worked with had another side to them that the public did not see.  I am sure the same is true for bus boys, dishwashers and bike messengers alike.  So I am going to tell a few stories of people I worked with, leaving out their names, who showed another side of themselves to me, be that intellectual, moral or an interesting personal history. If anyone has a story about a service or blue collar worker who secretly rises above there rank, please leave it in the comment section.

One of the persistent images of a parking attendant in Seattle, and in certain other metropolitan areas, is that a parking attendant is most certainly African.  I assure you I was not the only non-African parking attendant working for my company.  One attendant I new was Thai and he had formerly worked in parking management in L.A. but found the work as a cashier or valet less stressful.  Before coming to America he was an abstract artist and became, briefly, one of the leading modern artist in Thailand.  But tastes change and just like movie starts, they come slowly, they go fast.

Another attendant I admired simply for the reason she was a parking attendant.  This Hispanic woman had started working part time simply to put her kids through Catholic school, and eventually became a full time worker after her kids graduated and her husband died.

Another fellow worker was an attendant when I first met him, but is now low level management. He was working on his master degree and at the same time he was authored  a dictionary, an English-Tigre dictionary (Tigre is  spoken by some Ethiopians and most Eritreans.)  This dictionary was intended for translating medical texts and articles from English to Tigre to help his new born nation develop medical care.

Another attendant I knew worked at an evening attendant because it was slow and he could do his real job at the same time.  He was a computer code reader, editing code on contract, well paid but without benefits.  The parking job had benefits.

Other Africans I knew had been members of one guerrilla faction or political party or another.  One young man had been raised in a guerrilla camp, as both his parents were militants. Another man, a friend of mine, was elected Mayor of a small town because of his connections with a political party, and because he spoke all of the languages in the spoken near that town.

I often heard disparaging remarks that "that other attendant, the African one doesn't speak English".  I never met one who didn't speak any English--they interviewed for the job in English.  Most spoke excellent English, and many far better English than the Disparaging Remarker (only a neologism will serve to adequate describe this type of parking patron.).  Disparaging Remarkers are often of a low educational level.   Often the attendant in question had a thick accent, as they were new to the country and had learned there English at home.  To understand someone with a thick accent one has to listen a little closer, which you won't do if you assume they are speaking another language. However they all spoke at least two languages, which made them better educated in that department than the Remarker.  Most in fact spoke 2 or more African languages and that is usual in East Africa. Many Africans I knew spoke more than one European language as well--often Italian, Russian or French.  Many East Africans, especially Muslims, spoke Arabic as well.  I have a friend who counted money in five languages every time I counted money in Spanish.  I told him to stop rubbing it in.

When I was working in the garages and lots my company managed at Virginia Mason there was an Eirtrean parking attendant I knew that loved good literature almost as much as I did.  While I was talking to him I saw one of the doctors coming and I decided to play a little game.  I started talking with my fellow attendant about Garcia Lorca, the famous Spanish poet.  My friend new who Lorca was and we had an erudite conversation going while the good Doctor walked by us.

I knew several attendants who had held jobs in government ministries.  In Ethiopia this was often the tourism ministry or the coffee ministry.

Many parking attendants were in school, others had acquired degrees in Ethiopia, which uses the British  system in it's schools.  Because they were school under the British system the degrees are often not fully transferable, even though the education is excellent.

I loved reading the New York Times, and until the company began a strict no reading policy, I read it when the garage was slow. Several other attendants I knew read it also, especially the African ones, because it had better international news, and they were from abroad.  And I knew more parking attendants that listened to NPR stations than to top forty.

And finally I knew two parking attendants who were priests in the Ethiopian Coptic Orthodox Church and one young  Muslim man who was studying to become an Iman. There was not enough money in their immigrant communities to support everyone who undertook the clerical life, and they theological studies didn't prepare them for more lucrative occupations.

A friend of mine works at Suzzallo Library on the University of Washington campus and she says there are a good number of homeless Ph D's who come to the library to read.  I guess it's true--you can only judge a book by it's content.


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