By Gayle Tice
If it should be mandatory to work retail to find out how to be civil with every variation of irritated humanity, it should also be mandatory to work as a parking attendant for a large event taking over a major commercial zone. I found myself working as a parking attendant for an art fair in Bellevue this past July 28 to 31, on assignment from a Staffing agency.
Imagine for a moment that you are stationed in a parking garage that many drivers have been parking in to go to the mall for many years. They are in fact the world’s leading experts on how this parking garage works. They know precisely what to do on a usual day. You received thirty seconds of introduction about your job for this special occasion. They have their favorite spot and they are determined to reach it, if only you would allow them.
The parking garage has been completely reconfigured with temporary new signs, barricades, and taped off areas that are only opened for people with VIP passes. Great swaths of parking have been converted into covered space for tables, portable toilets and sinks, and artist booths. Some of the surrounding streets have been blocked off and filled with booths as well. Temporary workers have been brought in to direct all the extra traffic around the obstructions; you are one of them. You were told to prepare for anything. You had no idea.
You stand before a hollow plastic barrier at the top of the entrance ramp (usually an entrance/exit ramp) to the second level of the garage with two signs in front of you stating what you are about to say in answer to every possible kind of question. “Turn left to exit, right to park.” Your training for this post consisted entirely of, “Tell them to go left to exit and right to park.”
“What if I want to park on the left?” they reply. Your training did not prepare you for this.
If cars have lined up down the hill and around the bend at the bottom during the course of this conversation you say “Go ahead and try.”
When they fail to find a parking spot to the left (go figure, there was a reason you were told to move them to the right) they come back around and ask you to move the barricade so they can leave. They failed to find the exit on the left.
You already asked the valet parking employees below if you could move the barricade when one driver was particularly irate screaming about the $3,000 worth of art he had just purchased and how no one could tell him how to pick it up. You say again, “We are asking people to exit to the left, or park to the right,” and add that it isn’t possible to leave that way even if you did move it.
There is a special flavor of irritation that emanates from those who feel entitled to get their way in spite of any contextual clues around them that indicate otherwise. You would feel bad for the $3,000 worth of art guy if he hadn’t screamed and ordered you to move the barricade, apparently assuming that it was there exclusively to anger him, and then threatened to go run people down with his car when you told him to go ask at the information booth.
Your apologies are met with, “Maybe the police can help me out when they have to come haul me away.”
You have authentic sympathy for the half dozen people that have asked you where the handicapped parking spots are, a total mystery to you.
The people who circle around and around your floor cause you to add, “Keep going up if you don’t find a spot” to your refrain of “left to exit, right to park.”
To the fellow who asks you, “What the [expletive deleted] are you good for?” you say, “to tell you to go left to exit or right to park.”
You respond with smiles and laughter to all the people who ask if you are having fun yet. They actually help make it more fun.
After an eight-hour day you consider yourself something of an expert on the kinds of questions you are going to be asked and how you ought to respond to them.
The next day you are assigned to an entirely different post.
Editor’s Note: Gayle Tice is an emerging journalist based in Seattle. But she grew up in Graham and went to school in Orting. Many years ago she started her journey by “shadowing” me for a day when I was a regular newspaper reporter for the Eatonville Dispatch.