The Parking Attendant Who Reads Her Prayer Book to Pass the Time

Photo: Getty Images

Megdlawit,* 36
Parking-Garage Attendant
Austin, Texas

I’m officially called an ambassador. My job is not to help the drivers as they exit, but to validate them as they come in. The garage is owned by an apartment complex. A certain number of spaces are reserved for the people who live there, a certain number for visitors, and a certain number is reserved for the movie theater.

I’m supposed to stand there and ask, “Hey, do you live here?” “Are you a visitor?” “Are you going to the movie theater?” If the garage is full, I send them somewhere else. That way, we can control the traffic flow, so the residents, their guests, and the movie-theater people have a place to park.

It’s a business, restaurant, and shopping area. Mostly, its upper-class, middle-class type of people, but it’s also people from all sorts of walks of life. The location is central to a lot of stuff that happens in town. There’s a concert auditorium. There are all sorts of stuff going on. People are always passing through.

Physically, my job is not very demanding. I get there. I clock in by phone. And then I count the cars. There are four levels, so I start at the top and walk down. I have a counter. I count the cars and I count the open spaces. There’s a computer in the office down below that counts based on how many cars come in. Anytime the gate opens, the computer downstairs registers that a car has come in or a car has left. It’s all connected.

Usually, after I count the cars, I do a cleanup. We have a booth. It’s kind of depressing, actually. It’s probably about seven by seven. They don’t want us to be in there a lot. I’m supposed to be at the entrance. But if it’s cold, or if it’s hot, you get in there for AC, heater, or a little bit of breathing time. I clean the windows of the booth. I clean the desk. I sweep up outside. There are maintenance people to do that, but I figure I’m not doing a whole lot. At least I can contribute by sweeping my section by the gate and stuff.

I came to the United States when I was going on 14 — from Iran, actually. We’re Ethiopian, but my dad used to be an ambassador, and then a diplomat. I don’t know the whole story. It was something dangerous. The government wanted him back. So six of us moved from Tehran, to live in L.A. in a two-bedroom apartment, to seek political asylum. There were also family issues. My dad was a very intelligent man, educated. Because of his work, we would move all the time, on top of what was going on at home. So when I came to America, I just rebelled.

In eighth grade, I started hanging out with kids who weren’t geared toward being successful in school. Someone introduced me to smoking pot. One thing led to another. I got kicked out of high school. I ended up hanging out on the drag, where young homeless people hang out. I stayed there off and on. Drugs and alcohol were available. I ended up in a crack house.

I went to rehab when I was 16. That’s the first time I recognized that there was a sky above me. I knew there was a sky, but not with my heart. I’d learned at a young age to blame people. It was always, “I’m on the streets because my dad was bad.” It was really twisted and dark. To go from there and to say, “You know what? Nobody’s perfect. Let’s find the solution.” That was totally supernatural for me. And it was because Christ entered my life. And I was like, “Hey, this is the best drug ever! I want to tell people!”

I thought I was going to go to a convent. That was going to be my big job. But I never focused on getting my education. First seek the kingdom of God, and all things will be added unto you. I took that to heart, and that’s what I did. I didn’t develop any other skill other than customer service.

When I’m just out there at work, I try to be positive and to be a good Christian. I feel like there’s a bigger lesson, which is to build my character. How do I behave as a Christian woman in this situation?

So usually, I’m always, “Hey!” “Hi!” to whomever I see. I’m not a nun, nor am I preaching the Gospel behind the pulpit. But I try to contribute by being positive.

There are some people who don’t like that for whatever reason. There are some women with resident parking spaces there who just — I think I understand. If I lived there and I had to deal with a parking attendant, plus the customer traffic … I know it doesn’t have anything to do with me.

When they come into the garage, there’s a sign that says “Card Only,” and it shows how much it costs per minute. The bad thing is, the automated machine charges by the minute. So, for example, if you’re allowed to park for free for 20 minutes, but it takes you an extra minute to come around the curb, it’s going to charge you. If people get to the machine and they’re a minute over, they find out they have to pay $8. So they freak out. And the only person to freak out to is me, the attendant.

They will include me in the package and say, “It’s too expensive! Call your boss!” Or they say, “You should put that sign at the entrance!” There is a sign. But they don’t read it.

I get it. I get it. I wouldn’t want to pay that much, either. At the same time, it’s not me. I try to be nice, “Dang, man, it’d be nice if you tried to not be a butthole to me. I’m trying to make you have a better experience, even though it sucks.”

But some people want to argue. At least two or three per ten-hour shift. Especially in the evenings, when people come to dine downstairs, they don’t want to pay this rate. They’re driving these luxury cars, so you assume it wouldn’t be a big deal. I’m beginning to think that maybe they are very strict about where they spend their money, and that’s how they can afford the luxury car.

I’m probably the worst Christian you’ll meet, but that’s what I try to live by. So upon awakening, I have to remind myself. Like, “Hey. You’re going to work. You’re trying to make money. But that’s not the big picture.” The big picture is that I believe there’s something greater, and that greater thing is beautiful. That’s what gets me centered. I’ve got to connect with that; otherwise, I’ll just go crazy. That’s what gives my job light in that dark garage.

One of the things I do to constantly remember God is I look at the sky or the trees. Things that aren’t made by people. Sometimes, when I’m at work, if the sun’s still up, I take a chair and sit outside. I set it behind the metal thing that holds up the gate. It’s perfect. I can sit there. There are tickets that need to be counted and bundled up, so I do that. Then I try to finish my prayers. I have a prayer book. It’s called the Prayer of the Covenant. It’s from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church because that’s my denomination.

In the Orthodox Church, they use pictures and drawings to preach the Gospel. It’s not to say, “Hey, this is how Jesus looked,” or the mother of Jesus, or the disciples. It’s more like when your eyes rest, you remember what the Gospel says. So maybe it’s because I’m not educated, but I get things through pictures. Or maybe because the booth looks so depressing. But I like to make collages. I bought these National Geographic magazines. Reader’s Digest. I pick animals, different cultures, and try to mix it up, and I put them on the walls of the booth.

My boss has seen it. He hasn’t said anything [laughs]. I don’t want to send out the wrong message about the faith, or about me, by sitting around with my prayer book.

Spirituality is not what a big company is thinking about. It’s about the money. I get it. Ethically, I think, Am I this douche by working for them? I’m contributing to their way of doing things, which doesn’t go 100 percent with how I live and seek to be.

But I can’t afford to say, “See you later, buddy!” I live hand-to-mouth. I miss one paycheck and bills don’t get paid. It’s a thing. I don’t want to be homeless again. But career, it’s just not a priority. That might sound foolish. But when you measure it to God’s Kingdom or eternity, we’re here briefly, so you want to do good. You want to enjoy. The end goal is not the career. The ultimate goal is out of this world. Literally.

*Name has been changed.

The Parking Attendant Who Reads Her Prayers to Pass the Time