Men at Work / Hombres trabajando

There’s nothing particularly unusual about seeing stuff hanging from trees in Santiago. In fact, a jacket, a backpack, and maybe a thermos are a sign that someone’s at work…

  • For Spanish, use the translation tool on the top right of the page…

Santiago is full of informal jobs: car attendants, band-aid vendors,  knife sharpeners, and paper hander-outers, to name just a few. Future posts will cover a host of unusual ways that people make a living here in Chile, but today’s topic refers to an aspect that is so common that most people don’t even see it: personal belongings hanging from a tree mean that someone has staked out that territory and will be working there that day.

Men at work, Santiago Chile

Men at work, Santiago Chile

This picture was taken in a residential-transition-to-commercial sector of Providencia (a Santiago neighborhood).  The man in yellow is a human parking meter, paid by the municipal government to keep track of how long cars are parked there and make sure they pay their due rate. On the tree we see his jacket and thermos, a yellow bag full of who knows what, and just to the right (and above the thermos) a stack of parking slips impaled on a nail. An empty Pepsi can dangles from another nail and will probably be recycled for cash at the end of the day. He spends the entire day there taking care of traffic on that block.

This is actually a fairly new job. Until recently, most parking was technically free, and cars were “cared for” by voluntary attendants who laid claim to certain blocks and “took care of your car” for tips. Some ask for payment up front, especially in areas with a nightlife and the attendants might want to go home before the owners come back. There are plenty of stories about pushy hustlers in Bellavista who demand payment up front and defiant drivers who defend their right to free parking and return to find their car scratched up. Moral of the story: pay up or park somewhere else…

Fewer informal parking attendants are seen in commercial areas these days because the municipalities have caught on to the fact that there’s considerable money to be made… it’s even enough to make you miss the old days when “park for a tip” was the norm!

2 responses to “Men at Work / Hombres trabajando

  1. Signs you have lived in Chile too long: you stop realizing that in some countries it would be weird for people to hang their personal belongings from trees.

    Although I do sometimes wonder how the backpacks never get stolen – is there some kind of solidarity between thieves and these workers? Because the owners are sometimes pretty far from the trees, and it wouldn’t be too difficult to grab a bag and run!

  2. Yeah, since I started this blog I’ve been trying to really keep my eyes open and see things freshly again… The other day I was walking down the street and saw this stuff hanging there and realized that it’s been a while since I even noticed that kind of thing! Now I carry a camera with me all the time to take advantage of those kinds of moments!
    I’ve never heard of a bag or backpack being stolen, but hmmm, maybe that goes against some kind of code among informal workers… Anybody know?

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