It's a busy Monday morning in downtown Porto Alegre, and trying to find a place to park is as difficult as ever. We get lucky as someone is pulling out just in front of us, and even luckier as the 'flanelinha' hands us the departing driver's ticket, with 50 mintues still on it!
As it turns out, we only need half that, which is amazing for a visit to a government office. But as we return to the car, we realize we only have a R$1 coin to give our helpful friend. He is undiscouraged. 'Tá ótimo. Boa semana,' he calls out, smiling, then immediately turns his attention to the next eager recipient of our spot.
I'm fascinated by these guys. I'm bemused by the whole custom of having someone 'assist' you in parking your own car, making a theatrical show of rolling their hands to indicate turning your wheels, or shouting 'Pare, pare' in case you might hit the car behind you. Then they are waiting when you are ready to leave, assuring you that they have been guarding your car with their own lives.
'What do they do?' I asked when I first moved to POA in January. They look after your car, my husband told me. Why? For money, of course. Some of them seem kinda scary, I thought, suddenly appearing at your window in the dark. But they're harmless, people say. Unless you DON'T give them money... (though no one seems to know anyone who actually had a problem with any of them!)
Apparently it's a lot worse in São Paulo, where flanelinhas are very aggressive, and can demand inflated prices or even threaten you if you don't pay. Thankfully here they are generally quite friendly, and they cheerfully accept whatever small donations you give them.
Sometimes my husband tries to avoid paying, mumbling about having no change after the windows are already closed. I tell him he will get bad 'parking guy' karma if he keeps it up, and now I usually try to have some coins ready before we get to the car.
Everybody has to make a living somehow, right?