Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Relaxing Vacation

The Adventures of Jerry the Parking Lot Attendant – Episode 2: A Relaxing Vacation
                The sun was already high in the sky when Tom awoke. He lay in a white hammock, slowly swaying in the tropical breeze. A worn cowboy hat covered his face. His flip-flops lay on the ground a few feet from his hammock. His colorful shirt and khaki shorts were rumpled from being slept in. As he roused from his slumber, he looked down at himself.
                Maybe this vacation was a little too overdue. He thought.
                Tom was a software designer back in Los Angeles. But here, he was just another guy on vacation - without a care in the world. It had been… Tom couldn’t remember how long since he had taken a vacation. It must have been my last spring break in college. That had been almost ten years ago. Ah well, at least he was taking one now.
                The beach lay only a few hundred feet from the hammock that had served as Tom’s bed the night before. He looked over, and saw a few people sun bathing, swimming, or walking in the sand. His favorite part about this resort was that there were so few people at it. Of course, such exclusivity carried a hefty price tag.
                Tom turned and walked away from the beach, up to a building that was designed to look like a very large bamboo hut. In reality, it was a very sturdy building that housed the resort’s bar and restaurant. He sat at one of the small, round tables, and picked up a menu. The selection ranged from lobster to filet mignon. Tom rubbed his chin while he pondered his choice of breakfast… or was it lunch? He decided to go with breakfast, since he hadn’t eaten anything yet.
                “May I help you, sir?” One of the waitresses asked.
                “Yes… Can I get a South-West Omelet, extra cheese, with bacon? Oh, and an orange juice.”
                “Yes sir. I will put the order in for you right away.”
                As the waitress walked away towards the kitchen, Tom looked around the restaurant. There was a couple sitting a few tables away – Tom thought they were probably newlyweds by the way they looked at each other. At the bar there was an old man dressed in a red jump suit, with flip flops and a black fedora. The… unusual outfit made Tom stare for a moment, and old man noticed. The man picked up his drink and sauntered over to where Tom sat.
                “Good afternoon to ya, my boy!” The man sat himself down at Tom’s table without waiting for an invitation. “How do ya like the place?”
                “Um… it’s a very nice resort, sir…”
                “Glad you think so! It’s one of my favorites.” The man took a sip of his drink. “How long have ya been here?”
                “I, uh, guess last night was my second night here… Sir, can I –“
                “Aye, it’s a good time of year to come visit! In another month or so, the hurricanes will be coming through. And you don’t want to be here during a hurricane, let me tell you!”
                “But… hurricanes occur in the Atlantic Ocean. They call them Typhoons in this part of the world.”
                The old man waved his hand impatiently. “Hurricanes. Typhoons. Both are bad for business.” He stuck out his hand. “The name’s Jack. Nice to meet ya!”
                Tom hesitated, then reached out and shook the man’s hand. “I’m Tom. It’s… good to meet you too.”
                “What do you do, Tom?”
                “I’m a software developer.”
                The man laughed. “Is that so? I’ve written some software in my time. What sort of software do you develop?”
                Tom spent the next several minutes explaining the banking and other financial software that he had worked on. At least, he tried to explain it. Jack would interrupt him with more questions before he could finish answering the last question he had asked. Finally, the interrogation was put on hold when the waitress appeared with Tom’s Omelet.
                She smiled when she saw Jack sitting at the table with Tom. “Thank you, Gwinn,” Jack Said. “I’ll take care of the bill for my friend here.”
                “Yes Sir!” She set the Omelet down. “Can I get you anything, Jack?”
                “Not right now, thank you.”
                As he cut into his Omelet, Tom eyed the strange man across the table from him. “What about you… Jack? What do you do?”
                “Oh… this and that. Although, I’m mostly retire from doing this and that these days.”
                Tom frowned. “I… see.”
                Jack laughed again. “It’s nothin’ bad, my boy! These days I spend a lot of time at this resort and a few others. I find the tropical air does wonders for my lungs!”
                “…you spend the majority of your time at resorts like this?”
                “Ha! Well, this and that pay very well when you are good at it!” The man chuckled to himself. “Ah… I’m sorry, son. I can see you think I’m some sort of spy. It’s nothing that exciting… Tell you what. The radio show that I started out on should be playing about now back in the states. Would you care to listen to how I got my start?”
                Tom had to admit that he was intrigued by this eccentric man. “Why not? Do you have a radio on hand?”
                The man raised one eyebrow and pulled a smart phone out of his pocket. “I thought ya were a software developer!” He pushed some icons on the touch screen, and a radio program began to play through the phone’s speakers.
                “…with your host, Bobby Blindside!”
                “Ladies and gentlemen, tonight we bring you a special program. By now you have probably heard about the strange event that occurred a few nights ago in Greenfield, Ohio. Tonight, we are broadcasting from Greenfield. I have spent the last two days and nights working tirelessly to bring you this report. It is one of our finest pieces of investigative journalism, and you can only get it here. Let’s start off with what the newspapers and TV stations have told us.
                “Last Friday night seemed like any other Friday night in Greenfield, Ohio. There was a rock concert at the civic center, and a minor-league baseball game at the town’s stadium. While many of the town’s residents were at one of these events, many others had decided to just stay home, or go out for dinner and a movie. Nothing seemed unusual to anyone in town. That is, until 1:23 AM, when a roar that was described by the Greenfield Reporter as ‘sounding like a low-flying fighter jet’ ripped most of the residents from their peaceful slumber. People rushed to their windows and saw a light in the sky that was speeding off into the distance. Understandably, many of the citizens of this fair town were upset and confused. Some ran outside to try to get a better look at what had made the noise. According to the local news reporters, no one saw anything else. The Mayor of Greenfield released a statement the next afternoon that called the roar and light an ‘unscheduled military fly-over.’ That, ladies and gentlemen, is the official story. I have investigated this incident thoroughly, and I am here to tell you – there is more going on in Greenfield, Ohio than just an unscheduled military fly-over. But before I tell you about that, I’d like to thank a few of the courageous people that have made it possible for me to continue to bring the truth to you on this program.” The phone then began to play a commercial for a do-it-yourself legal documents website.
                “You started this program?” Tom spoke over the sound of the commercial.
                “Aye, I did,” the old man smiled. “Those were some good times. This fellow I’ve got doing the program now does a good job, but there are times when I miss the thrill of finding and reporting on weird an unexplained happenings. Now be quiet so I can hear what really happened out there!” Jack tried to scowl, but the smile in his eyes betrayed him.
                “…Look at the evidence!” Bobby Blindside was back on the air. “The nearest military base to Greenfield is in Dayton – more than an hour away. The nearest airport at all is over 30 miles away – and that is just a regional airport. Why would a military plane be flying so low that it would wake up an entire town when the nearest place for it to land is 60 miles away? More importantly, if a military plane were flying over Greenfield, wouldn’t there be reports of the plane between Greenfield and the airbase? I can tell you there are no such reports. This claim that there was an unscheduled fly-over also ignores the other thing that every witness is reporting: a bright light moving off into the distance. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sure most of you have seen a plane fly at night. There are very distinctive lights on the wings and tail. An airplane – even a fighter jet – does not look like a bright light moving off into the distance! The official story makes no sense! So, why are the mayor and the newspapers spreading this story if makes no sense? Well, it’s because there is more to the story, and they don’t want you to know about it. But that is why I am here, ladies and gentlemen. I am here to spread the truth. I am here to keep you informed and help you wade your way through the stories and half-truths spun by newspapers and government officials. I am here so that you can know what really happened.
                “When we come back, I have a very special guest that will be on the program with us. He is an eye-witness to the noise and the light in the sky, but more than that, he is an eye-witness to what occurred before the noise woke up the rest of the town. Stay tuned, ladies and gentlemen, for an interview with an eye-witness to what really happened.”
                The radio program went to a commercial break. The first commercial was for a national toothpaste brand – recommended by 9 out of 10 dentists!
                Jack got up and went to the bar to get a re-fill of his drink. Tom had finished his Omelet while he listened to the broadcast. While Jack was at the bar, Gwinn came over to his table. “Can I take that plate from you, sir?”
                “Oh, yes, thank you…” He paused, looking at Jack over at the bar. “Just who is that old guy?” He asked as Gwinn picked up the plate and silverware from the table.
                Gwinn glanced at the bar and whispered, “I don’t really know, sir. None of us know who he is. I do know that he is very rich, and he tips generously.” As she straightened and shifted the plate to her left hand, she asked, “Is there anything else I can get you?”
                “Not right now. Thank you.”
                A commercial was still playing on the smart phone as Jack sat back down and took a long sip of his drink. “You should try the chocolate pie here.” He said as he put his drink on the table. “It is one of the best I have ever had!”
                “I just might try it after dinner tonight.” Tom smiled, and shifted in his chair, bouncing his leg a few times. “So, Jack, how do you know the staff here so well?”
                “Like I said, I stay here a lot.” Before Tom could ask him to elaborate, the voice of Bobby Blindside was, once again, coming through the speakers of Jack’s smart phone.
                “Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen. If you are just joining us, we are talking about what really happened last Friday night in Greenfield, Ohio. There have been reports of a loud, roaring sound, and a bright light moving off into the distance. The official story is that it was an unscheduled military fly-over. I already explained how that doesn’t make any sense just based on what the newspapers have reported. Now, I have a very special guest with me in the studio. He is an eye witness to what occurred before that loud noise. What’s your name, sir?”
                “Thank you for coming on the show tonight, Jerry.”
                “Oh, it’s my pleasure, sir! I always wanted to be on the radio!”
                “Well, now’s your chance! Tell me, Jerry, where were you last Friday night?”
                “Well, I was at work… I work at the, uh… as a parking lot attendant near the civic center. I was working last Friday. There was a rock concert at the center that we expected to go late, so my boss asked me if I was willing to work and stay late on Friday. I told him I was, so I he scheduled me to work that night.”
                “How late were you out there?”
                “Well, the concert finished around 12:30 or so. Most of the cars were out of the lot by 1, but there were a few people who were still at the civic center – I guess they must have been cleaning up or something – and their cars were still parked in the lot. My boss told me to stay until all of the cars were gone, or until 2, whichever came first.”
                “Makes sense. Can you tell us what you saw?”
                “Um, I guess it must have been around 1:15 or so. I was waiting for the last couple of people to come get their cars, like I said. I heard this hissing noise. I thought it might be a snake or something, so grabbed my flashlight and shined it around my booth. I didn’t see nothing, so I went outside to look around. When I stepped outside, I looked up and there was a this huge… thing floating right over my head!”
                “A huge thing? Can you describe it for us?”
                “It was big – at least a hundred feet across. It was kinda hard to see much detail in the dark, but it was definitely round – maybe even circular. Oh, and there was this greenish glow coming from underneath it.”
                “What did you do next?”
                “I was so scared, I couldn’t move for nothing at first! Then I dropped my flashlight and started backing into my booth. But then I must have tripped or somthin’, ‘cause I fell flat on my back. Then I was looking right up at the thing. I thought I was a gonner for sure!”
                “It sound terrifying, Jerry! Did the thing do anything to you?”
                “Sorta. While I was lying there on my back, I see a bluish light come out of the thing and shine on one of the cars below it. The light moved towards me, and I covered my head with my hands. I couldn’t see much else, but I know the light shone on me. Then it turned off. I looked up and couldn’t see nothing above me anymore. Then I hear this terrible sound – like a jet or something. And saw a blue light flying off into the distance faster than anything I ever seen before.”
                “Where you ok?”
                “Yes, sir. I got up and brushed myself off. I didn’t feel any different. I wasn’t hurt or nothing. Just kinda scared.”
                “Was there anyone there with you?”
                “I don’t know. I was the only one working that night, but there might have been someone else on the street or something. I didn’t notice anyone, though.”
                “Have you told anyone else about this?”
                “Oh, yes sir! I told the newspaper and called the TV station.”
                “Did they interview you?”
                “They both started to. But when I started telling them what I saw, they dismissed me and wouldn’t put anything I told them into the paper or on TV.”
                “That’s terrible! Well, thank you for telling me your story! I am always happy to let the truth be heard across this nation!”
                “Thank you sir! I didn’t think anybody was going to listen to me!”
                “Thank you for coming in this evening, Jerry. When we return, ladies and gentlemen, I will be taking your calls. What was the huge, round object that Jerry saw? Your calls, after this.”
                Jack picked up his phone and turned off the radio program. “So, Tom, what do you think of all that?”
                “Well, it seems likely that the ‘huge object’ the guy saw was just the result of too many late nights alone in a parking lot. If I were a betting man, I would put my money on low flying fighter jets or helicopters. Some military exercise that they didn’t tell the town about.”
                “Is that so?” Jack scratched his head under his fedora. “…is that so? Well, humor an old man. If it were a military jet, where did the light that everyone saw come from?”
                “Maybe they put a bright light on the jet?”
                “A light on a jet? What for? They don’t go slow enough to have any use for a bright light.”
                “Well, it could have been a helicopter – they are lit up a lot more than jets.”
                “Do helicopters sound like a roaring jet engine? Or move as fast as all those witnesses say it moved?”
                “Well… I… I don’t know!” Tom pushed his chair back and stood. He took a deep breath. “Look, mister. It’s been fun, but I am only here for one more night, and I intend to relax on my vacation.”
                Jack raised his hands in surrender. “Settle down. Settle down. I won’t keep you any longer if you want to leave.”
                Tom hesitated a moment, and Jack stood and walked around the table. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small notebook and a pen. He began writing. “Tell you what. When you get back to the states, call this number.  I’d love to have a chat with you some time.”
                Tom took the slip of paper. Jack had written his name on it and a phone number. It was an area code that Tom recognized – the phone was local to the Los Angeles area. Tom put the paper in his pocket. “I’ll do that, Jack. It has been a pleasure meeting you.”
                The two men shook hands, and Jack walked back towards the bar as Tom walked out the door towards the beach.
                What a strange man, Tom thought. He put the slip of paper into his wallet when he got back to his cabin. There, he showered and changed into his swimsuit. He went out and swam in the ocean, relaxed on the beach, and ate dinner at a crab shack on the beach. By the time he returned to his cabin late that night, he had forgotten all about Jack and the strange incident in Ohio.

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!