Wednesday, April 23, 2008


I just listened to a story on All Things Considered about some newfangled computerized system to monitor empty parking spaces in San Francisco. The system would allow rates to be changed for different times of day and you could find empty spaces on your cell phone, etc. All the freakin' bells and whistles.

I love stories like this on the one hand, because I find technology fascinating and enjoy listening to what is coming next. On the other hand, it makes me realize just how far I am from home.

Admittedly, this system could take years to get implemented in San Francisco, if it ever happens at all. But here in Salvador, in Bahia, in Brazil, it's gonna be many years. Salvador doesn't even have parking meters as far as I know.

What Salvador has is hundreds, if not thousands, of people who have as their only or primary means of employment to watch over a number of parking spaces, help drivers get in and out of them, and sometimes wash the cars that they watch over. My neighborhood must support about a dozen guys like this. On the bigger streets and in some of the fancier neighborhoods these people are apparently legalized- they wear official vests over their clothes and write out paper tickets that you display on your dashboard, with the price of the parking on it. But most of the time, it's just a guy with a rag waving you toward an empty spot and asking for some change or one real (Brazilian dollar) or sometimes more. The most shameless of these guys work in Pelourinho, where I have been asked for as much as five reis to park my car. I mean- I know I'm obviously an estrangeiro here, but do I really have 'idiot' written across my forehead? Generally when someone tries to get me to pay that much I just move to another spot. I've actually got it pretty well figured 0ut where I can park for free in most of the places I go.

Not that these guys are all bad. There are certainly places where I need to park that I'd rather have someone at least nominally keeping an eye on my car rather than have it all alone while I go do something. When it really bugs me, beyond the absurd fools in Pelourinho, is when I just need to stop for five minutes and suddenly there's a guy at my window wanting a real for almost nothing. Sometimes I just want a parking meter.

And then there's the army (or is it armies?) of window-washer guys...

And all the little children who juggle devil sticks at stoplights for change...

And the people who sell DVD's or water or fruit or candy or WHATEVER while you're waiting for the light to change.

Poverty is a terrible thing. This is something I've always known, but I know it much more intimately now than I ever have in the past. Some of these things I think are very wrong- I hate seeing little kids juggling for change on the street, and I hate to think of how they ended up doing so. But most of these people are working very hard for very little money, doing what they can to make some cash in an economy that doesn't present them with many options, and I can't begrudge them for it. I just wish they had more options.

1 comment:

AkuTyger said...

I can't stand Pelorinho. I only go there with people who are visiting to act as a tour guide and translate. Anything you can get in Pelo you can get on Avenida 7 for cheaper.