When I park in an underground parking garage in Chile, I curse the architect. The design is anything but user-friendly. The curving ramps between floors are too narrow to make it in one try, and concrete pillars sneak up on me scraping my car door or giving my side-view mirror a good whack. But when I step up to a window to validate my ticket, my inner rants lose importance.
From a chill subterranean cubicle, a woman receives my money and hands me the ticket. Is she satisfied with this job, sitting all day in a sterile concrete box with no natural light? Does she get bored or is she just thankful to have an income, pitiful as it may be? Perhaps, I think, she never aspired to anything more. Maybe she’s dreaming of buying a new refrigerator.
A woman in a bright orange uniform and cap, pushing a garbage can on wheels, sweeps the street in front of my house, removing the last of the fall and winter leaves. I smile and nod but feel embarrassed that she is sweeping my street, wondering how she feels cleaning the neighborhoods of the upper echelons in a government make-work job. When she finishes her shift, she’ll wait in line for a bus and arrive to her modest house at dark to wash and clean and prepare dinner for her family.
A few days ago I heard the music of an organ grinder floating down the street. Rather than a monkey like organ grinders of old, he travels with a small green parrot in a rustic wooden cage. His cart sports gaily colored balloons and whirly-gigs. No children came out to see him. Maybe he had more luck at the local park.
Along our street I often hear the gravelly call of the broom vendor and the distinctive whistle of a knife sharpener. On a nearby corner a man changes the cane on wooden chairs.
What is the job satisfaction of these people? Or is that a luxury they’ve never considered? If given the choice, I’d be an organ grinder: the promise of contact with children, out-of-doors, flexible hours and freedom to go wherever the road takes me. Deep in the parking garage box, I’d wither and die, a sunflower in a sunless world.