A few years back some Australian tourism outfit, as I recall, advertised the “best job in the world” and held a contest to fill the position. I didn’t apply – six months as caretaker of a tropical island seemed like a job for a single person; I wasn’t going to uproot my family for a six-month position. I probably wouldn’t have made the cut anyway, there were thousands of applicants.
Over the years I have met people who had jobs that I envied. Probably the one I craved most was the one a friend had as a firefighter at Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories. Needless to say, safety is a priority at a nuclear power and research station. Fires and other emergencies are extremely rare, which meant the firefighters really didn’t have that much to do. It was shift work, which is normal for firefighters, but the shifts were much longer than the norm. Instead of the typical 12 hour shift, three days a week that most firefighters work, these guys worked one 36-hour shift each week.
That’s a long shift, and you certainly wouldn’t want to depend on anyone who had been awake that long to do anything as risky as fighting a fire in a nuclear plant. But the Chalk River firefighters didn’t get tired on their shifts; they didn’t have to stay awake the entire time. They were able to keep a normal sleeping schedule at the fire station. And there wasn’t much to do when they were awake: some training and maintenance to be sure, but lots of time for reading. My friend four weeks holidays, which meant he worked 48 shifts a year and would sleep at least eight hours each shift. I wanted that job, but I wasn’t qualified.
Yesterday I stumbled across someone with perhaps an even better job, a parking attendant at The Ottawa Hospital’s Civic Campus.
Normally when I visit the hospital I park several blocks away on a city street so I don’t have to pay for parking. Wednesday I was tight for time so parked in one of the hospital lots. Parking lots are a cash cow for the hospital: many of those who visit are not well enough to park far away as I usually do. There is no parking on city streets within about a ten minute walking radius.
The lot in question is an outdoor one, with an entry gate, an exit gate and a kiosk in between where the attendant sits. When I entered I took a time-stamped ticket from the automated dispenser. At the exit I inserted it into another machine and discovered I owed $10.50. As you remember from yesterday’s post, I’m waiting for a new credit card. I do have my backup card, but I try to use it only in emergencies, it has a low spending limit. Cash works quite nicely for me. I had three five dollar bills in my hand, which I waved at the attendant, who seemed reluctant to leave his kiosk. He didn’t want my money. It turns out you can’t pay for parking with cash, it has to be credit card only. It doesn’t say that on the sign at the entrance giving the rates.
So I paid by credit card, no big deal. I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t had one. I am also left with the question – why is there a parking attendant? The process is automated, no human interaction required. What does the attendant do? A simple sign at the entrance saying “credit cards only” would eliminate the need for him to ever leave his kiosk.
I’m sure it pays minimum wage, or slightly more – but it also requires minimum effort. If he wants, he can probably spend his entire shift reading, with only a few interruptions from drivers who dare to try and pay in cash. I wonder how I can get a job like that!