Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Adventures of Jerry the Parking lot Attendant

                There are many jobs out there that some might consider dull. Flipping burgers, cleaning floors, selling clothes… might all be considered boring jobs. However, each has its own excitement – a particularly unusual customer, an entertaining story from a co-worker, or any number of things that could turn a boring day into a memorable one. There is one job, however, that seems deceptively lonely and boring. A job where the employee has few or no co-workers, any interaction with customers is very quick, and there are long periods of time with little or nothing to do. This is the job of a parking attendant. You might think that these men and women would get bored and lonely. However, as this story will tell you, their job can be far from dull.
                Jerry was just a teenager when he started working at A1 Parking. He had just gotten his driver’s license, and was looking for a way to pay for gas and fun. He loved cars, but didn’t know how to work on them. So, he figured that working at a parking lot would be fun. There really wasn’t anything special about A1 Parking – it was about two acres of fenced in asphalt with white stripes marking the rows of parking spots.  About two blocks from the stadium, across the street from the fairgrounds, and a short walk from the civic center, it seemed like there were always people needing to park there.
                Training at A1 Parking was quick and simple. Spend a week working the lot under the supervision of the owner, and then you get to watch the lot by yourself. Jerry was trained in the first week of summer vacation, and was already watching the lot by himself when the Brooks Brothers Carnival came to town. He always loved the carnival – especially the fried corn that some of the vendor’s sold. This year, however, he would have to watch from a distance for the first couple of nights.
                On the first night of the carnival, Jerry greeted cars as they came into the A1 Parking lot. He took their money, gave them a ticket, and told them to leave it on the dash. Dozens and dozens of cars came through, and the lot was quickly reaching capacity. However, as the night wore on, many of the people that came early began to leave, and made room for the later arrivals.
                As the flow of cars coming in to the lot began to dwindle, Jerry began to grow board. Between cars, he began to pace along the edge of the lot. He found that if he walked about 20 paces to the right of the entrance, he could just see inside the fairgrounds. He started watching the crowd hurrying along the midway, and the carnies trying to drum up business for their game or show. He could not see very far into the fairgrounds, but there was one very distinctive character that he could see. A tall, thin man dressed in a tuxedo with a red vest and red bowtie. He wore a tall top hat, and spoke in a voice loud enough that Jerry could hear some of what he said.
                “…a spectacle that will dazzle and amaze! With magic learned in the ancient temples of India! Come and see...”
                The magician was drawing quite a crowd into his colorful tent. Jerry was checking in a red Ford truck when the magician disappeared through the tent flap, but he could tell that the show must be about to start when he no longer heard the man’s booming voice.
He did not think much about the magician for the next half hour or so. He had begun to amuse himself by counting the number of giant stuffed dolphins that came out of the fair when he heard what sounded like distant screaming. He ran back to the spot where he could see into the fairgrounds and strained to see what the source of the creaming was. He saw a thin, but distinct trail of smoke rising from the magician’s tent. Then people began to stream out of the tent flaps. Men and women were coughing and running in any direction – as long as it was away from the tent. Suddenly the ground shook and Jerry was blinded by a bright flash of light. He stumbled backwards over the bumper of a parked car and fell. When he stumbled to his feet and looked at the fairgrounds again, the magician’s tent was gone. All that remained was a pile of blackened and burning cloth. People were stampeding out of the fair towards their cars. Jerry ran back to his post at the entrance to the lot, not quite sure what to do, but certain that he should be there. In the end, there wasn’t much for him to do, other than watch the crowds stream into their cars, and then cause a traffic jam as they tried to speed out of the parking lot and out onto the highway. Miraculously, there were no accidents in the rush to leave the carnival – not even a minor fender-bender.
                As the crowds pushed and shoved their way out of the fairgrounds, police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances sped into it. The firemen made sure that the fire was contained, and the paramedics took the handful injured people to the hospital. No one seemed to be injured seriously. Although, no one had seen the magician since the screaming started. The police secured the area, and began to question witnesses in an attempt to find out what happened. A sleepy looking county sheriff asked Jerry what he had seen.
                “I couldn’t see much, sir. I was watching the cars in the lot when I heard screaming. I looked over yonder and saw some smoke coming from that tent. Next thing I know, the thing explodes and knocks me clear off my feet! I saw all the people coming, and thought I would need to help them get to their cars and get home, so I came back to the booth here. I couldn’t see much else.”
                “Do you know what went on in that tent, son?”
                “I don’t know for sure, sir. I do know that it was a magician’s tent, though.”
                “Did you see the magician?”
                “Yeah, but I was pretty far away.”
                “Can you describe him for me?”
                “Well, he looked tall, had dark hair, and wore a tuxedo.”
                The county sheriff asked Jerry a few more questions, but it was clear that Jerry hadn’t seen very much. Eventually, the policemen left to continue their investigation, and Jerry went home.
                The newspapers covered the story the next morning. They reported that “The Mysterious Manchalanda” was a magician who had been traveling with the carnival for only a couple of months. His show really was spectacular, with everything from escape artistry to cutting people in half. His signature trick involved an impressive pyrotechnics display while he made an entire Elephant disappear. The reporters did not know what went wrong, but it seemed that something in that final trick went awry. The pyrotechnics began to burn the ceiling of the tent. This caused a panic inside the tent and, fortunately, caused an evacuation of the tent itself. Somehow more of the pyrotechnic supplies caught fire, and caused a very loud, very bright explosion. Seven people had been injured in the explosion. Most had minor burns and one man had a burst ear drum. No one had seen the magician since the explosion, and no sign of him had been found. The news paper assumed that the man had skipped town.
                Jerry took a couple of days off, but decided to continue working at A1 Parking. After all, he said, you don’t get to see this kind of excitement flipping burgers!

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