Eddie is as proud as he looks. He wears a reflective vest and a cap to protect him from the harsh African sun. His day starts at 4.45 and ends at noon. He works for himself and his job description includes holder of the keys, protector, predictor and catcher of thieves. He’s a car park attendant on the ramp leading down to North Beach.
“I love my job. It’s an early start but I get to know so many people and over the nine years that I’ve worked here, I’ve formed relationships with lots of surfers, bikers and regulars that use this beach and promenade.”
“Do you work for a boss? Is there some kind of a union you belong to?”
“No, not really. All the money we earn in tips goes into our own pockets. We have to pay for our own bibs (the reflective vests), we have to do a fingerprint test and get police clearance and then there are 3 senior guys who organise the shifts – 8 of us during the day and 12 at night.”
A guy drives past, opens his window and says,
“Thanks a lot Ed. Forgot my wallet at home but I’ll make it up to you later. Sorry man!”
“No problem Bevin. See you next time.”
Bevin is a surfer who lives in Kloof, about 27 km away from Durban. By 7.30 am Ed has already sent out 16 Whatsapps to various guys giving them a wave report and whether it’s worth the drive to catch a wave. On this particular Monday morning, conditions have been particularly favourable. Huge swells, gentle peeling waves, calm waters, no choppy ‘white horses’.
Another guy collects his key. He asks me what I’m doing and he tells me in no uncertain terms what he thinks.
“Ed is one of the incredible blessings of this f…ing promenade. He does a fantastic job, taking care of our cars, standing in the heat of this scorcher while we’re having fun. What’s it going to be Ed, coffee or Coke?”
I ask him what’s the hairiest experience he’s had.
“Last Saturday, a guy parks his car at the top end, takes his son to the beach and the next minute I know, his car is slowly rolling backwards. I run up there and stop it with my body when suddenly, the engine starts and I see a guy behind the wheel. That’s when I realised it wasn’t just a handbrake problem.”
He flagged down one of his ‘regulars’ and asks him to chase after the guy while he’s alerting the police. Minutes later, the car has been stopped and the perpetrator caught. See what happens when you don’t give your keys to Ed!
This unique situation only happens at the beach parking lots, nowhere else in town, sadly. These unsung heroes are doing a sterling job of taking care of things in a country where robbery is a daily occurrence and car theft, second to none. I felt a little nervous about handing over my car keys, but when you think of it, Ed’s carrying a bunch, he has his pick if he wanted to steal one, but he’s smart enough to realise that being there day in and day out is more sustainable than a one-off and far more personally satisfying knowing that you are trusted and a valuable member of your community. Wish there were more Eds around.