It was a little irrational, I admit. But ever since last summer, when I got the job as a parking attendant for the University of New Mexico's special-events staff, I had taken to scouring the newspaper's sports section after every home game. Be it football or women's basketball, I was fully expecting to see mention of how my colleagues and I acquitted ourselves the night before.
Time and again, I came away disappointed. In truth, with The Pit under renovation and thousands of parking spaces lost to construction, the subject did occasionally earn a paragraph or two, usually at the end of an account of a game. Most of the time it was along the lines of how hellish traffic had been, with vehicles backed up for miles while fans lost their minds waiting to park, or how outraged everyone was at having to hand over $5 for what used to be free.
I understood why the parking staff received no coverage. It was the players and coaches who deserved the attention. Like our brothers and sisters in arms—the ushers, ticket-takers and everyone else behind the scenes—we were just the wind beneath the participants' wings. Only a face without a name, you never once heard me complain. But I'd be lying if I said it didn't hurt. Some days we spent as many as eight hours under the hot sun doing our jobs. Shouldn't we have our moment in it, too?
After all, we were the front-line troops of the Lobos sports machine (as well as the Isotopes, for whom UNM also does parking), the first faces people saw when they arrived for a game. "Be polite," our boss, Michael Haggerty, implored us during our training session. "Be friendly."
Predictably, none of the fans liked the $5 charge, which is still in effect in all lots, by the way. Haggerty, anticipating some static, told us to avoid arguing with the complainers, but not to stand there agreeing with them either. "Ahh, whatcha gonna do?" was my stock response to those who were upset. I thought it struck a nice balance between "I'm sorry" and "Hand it over, Mack." With some people, I'd urge, "Try to have five dollars’ extra fun today," which often got a chuckle and broke the tension. At least one guy saw through that line: "Five dollars less fun, you mean," he said mournfully.
Many people vented their wrath on me. A few, I'm convinced, took pleasure in seeing how close they could pull their car to my toes. And one deep thinker handed me a handful of small change and a sneer as payment, but refused to hang around while I counted it.
Most folks simply said what they were thinking. "You know who you are?" barked one older gentleman before an Isotopes game. "You're Jesse James!" He meant the bandit, but I had the motorcycle enthusiast on my mind. "Don't you dare compare me to him!" I said in mock outrage. "If I was with Sandra Bullock, I'd treat her right."
A twentysomething woman pulled up in a convertible and asked if I'd let her park for free if she showed me ... well, you know.
The fans had no shortage of ideas about how to circumvent the system. Women—knowing full well how things would play out—went through the act of searching their purses, every pocket of their clothing, and all the compartments of their car while the line of traffic grew behind them, then looked up with sad eyes and said they had no money, and could I make an exception this one time?
Then there was the fiftyish-year-old guy with the broken face, closely shorn hair and black leather jacket. My parking lot, across from Isotopes Park, didn't open until 5 p.m. that day to give the workers in the Science and Technology offices a chance to clear out. This fellow, growing more livid every second, wanted none of it. To avoid a confrontation, I was about to let him go ahead. But before I could say anything, he got a look on his face that said, "I didn't want to have to do this," then shoved a law-enforcement badge of some sort in my face.
I know I should have held back; I'm sure there was a weapon in his vehicle somewhere. But in that moment, I could hardly help myself: I burst out laughing and asked, "What's that supposed to do?" I finally told him to go on in—despite the badge-waving, not because of it. Sometimes life is too short.
Not long after he departed, a twentysomething woman pulled up in a convertible and asked if I'd let her park for free if she showed me ... well, you know. With rush-hour traffic on University bustling behind us and an underlying fear that I was being played for a fool by someone with a video camera, I said—to the later chagrin of my mostly male coworkers—it didn’t sound like a great idea.
Because of the shortage of parking spaces, UNM established a rule by which vehicles with four or more people—
The four-for-free rule also produced some facetious efforts by those who came up short. One tailgater held up a carton of eggs and said he had 12 extra passengers.
I caught only one group trying to trick me. It was three teenage boys going to an Isotopes game. "How many you got in there?" I asked, my view obscured by the tinted window in back.
"Four!" they all cried, a bit too merrily.
I stuck my head in the driver's window and saw just three people, then noticed a baby seat, covered with a blanket.
"You have a baby there?"
"Yeah, but he's asleep right now."
All the same, I said, let's have a look at the little nipper.
With a guilty expression, one of kids peeled back the covering to reveal an empty baby seat. I know better than to reward bad behavior, but in that moment I saw my own buddies and me 30 years earlier, everyone piling into a car on a summer night and taking in a game. What these kids had tried seemed like something we would have done. I suspect we would have laid on the indignation a little thicker had someone challenged us about the baby or feigned shock when we found the tyke missing, but what the hell. I waved the kids and their baby seat on in.
"All right!" they yelled, laughing uproariously, and slapping one another high fives.
Thirty years from now, I like to think, they'll remember the night they tried to pull a fast one on the parking guy. They've probably already forgotten the baseball game.