I was about to be late for a meeting one morning as I spun into the underground garage hoping to park and dash. There wasn’t an open spot anywhere, but there was a sign that said “Valet” and so, desperate, I pulled up, handed my keys to a pale but otherwise hardy-looking young man and made it to my meeting with seconds to spare.
After the meeting, I found this same young man in a small glass room, the only lighted spot in the center of the dark garage, where he sat between a rack of keys and a point-of-sale register. His head was bent low over his lap and, as I approached, I realized he was reading.
“Hi,” I said, to get his attention.
He looked up, neither slowly nor with a start.
“Gray Honda Accord coupe,” I said.
He closed the book he was reading—Gravity’s Rainbow—and directed his attention to the key rack.
“Do you like it?” I asked, pointing to the book.
He seemed surprised by the question.
“Do you like Pynchon?” I asked again.
“Not this one as much as the others,” he said finally.
“Me neither,” I agreed. “I preferred The Crying of Lot 49.”
He found my key.
“Your car is over there,” he pointed. “Do you want me to pull it up for you?”
“No, thanks.” It was only 20 feet away. “It’s not every day I meet someone in a garage reading Pynchon.”
“No, I guess not,” he acknowledged with an apologetic smile. “I majored in English. That’s what’s prepared me for this worthy and enviable career in parking lot stewardship,” he sneered, gesturing grandly to the cars parked all around.
“I majored in English, too,” I shared with him. “That’s what prepared me for a career in business leadership.”
He squinted at me, and I detected a bit of both surprise and suspicion.
“English majors don’t belong in parking garages, no matter what anyone tells you. They belong in leadership, bringing literacy and clarity to business, where it’s very much needed.”
He was still holding my car key in his hand.
“I’m serious. English majors have a lot to offer, and you shouldn’t sell yourself short.”
He’d been curious, now he seemed taken aback. Who was this Honda owner lecturing him about career prospects?
“Well, I did teach for the Peace Corps for a year,” he offered in self defense. “But after that, I didn’t know what to do, so I took this job. It’s good because I get a lot of time to read.”
“I see that,” I said, glancing at the 800-page novel he’d just put aside.
“I don’t really want to park cars,” he said, probably wondering even as he said it why he was explaining himself to a stranger.
“But, like I said, I don’t know what to do.”
“Start by getting a job that requires ‘excellent communication skills.’ I bet that’s not in your job description here.” Not that his job probably came with a description. “Go after jobs in universities—they like English majors—or administrative jobs in big companies. And take a look at what leaders in those places are doing. You’ll be surprised to see how well your education has prepared you for that.”
“Yes, I guess I’d be surprised,” he admitted.
I took my car key, paid him, and walked to my car.
The next week, I was headed to the same neighborhood, to a building down the street. I was early for my meeting, so I stopped by to see the young Pynchon reader. I handed him a copy of Great Jobs for English Majors, by Julie DeGalan and Stephen Lambert
“It’s a gift. I hope your parking lot days are numbered.”
Looking bewildered, he said “Thanks” and I bid him good morning.
I’ve been in that parking garage since and haven’t seen him there. I’m hoping he got a job worthy of his education. But perhaps he just moved on to a different parking garage where he hopes not to run into me.