HAWAII AT WORK
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Mary Stowers is a parking attendant with ProPark Inc., usually working at its Waikiki Parking Garage on Seaside Avenue. Above, Stowers last week took a ticket from a driver entering the garage.
Parking attendant starts your day with a smile
Mary Stowers extends aloha when you're coming and going at Waikiki Parking Garage
Title: Parking attendant and cashier
Job: Collects payments from customers at Waikiki Parking Garage
Mary Stowers is the kind of parking lot attendant you'd probably like to deal with if you ever had a problem paying your tab.
Assuming you were sincere, the longtime ProPark Inc. employee quite likely would go to bat for you, so you could pay a lower amount or arrange to pay what you owe later. And since she's so warm and ebullient, how could her bosses turn her down?
Stowers said last week that her job is mostly a happy affair, which she loves to the point of having once turned down a job offer from a competitor of ProPark.
Stowers is one of more than 250 employees of the company, which Hawaii resident Richard Leong started in 1980 and these days manages more than 15,000 stalls in more than 50 self-park and valet locations on Oahu and Maui. She joined the company almost 18 years ago, not long after moving to Hawaii from Western Samoa by way of New Zealand, and Cape Vincent, N.Y., where she lived for two years with a cousin who was in the U.S. Coast Guard.
"I went to high school in Samoa, but I didn't finish; I was a bad girl," she joked. "So my parents sent me to New Zealand to go to school there, but I went to work instead (at a paper mill in Tokoroa). That's why I didn't get more education. I was bad."
Good or bad, Stowers seems to have found her niche at ProPark, where she intends to keep working until she retires.
Divorced with one adult son -- a Honolulu city bus driver -- Stowers turned 65 on April 8 and lives in Kakaako.
" I love it there," she said.
What is your work title?
Mary Stowers: I'm a parking attendant and cashier.
Q: What basically do you do on the job?
A: I just collect money from, you know, the customers. I collect the daily rates. We have daily rates from $6 flat (for 10 hours) and a $2 every half hour. And also I collect for monthly parking as well.
So I work Monday through Friday. I get eight hours a day. (Laughter)
Q: How long have you been working as a parking attendant?
A: Well, I've been working for my company for about 17 years already.
Q: What were you doing before you joined ProPark?
A: Well, I came from Western Samoa around 1990.
Q: And you went right to work with Pro Park?
A: Yes ... Well, actually I was working as a cashier for Sizzler for one year, the one that was down here by Kalakaua (Avenue). It was open 24 hours, but they closed it now.
Q: Did you have a night shift there?
A: Yeah, I was working a graveyard shift. I was working there from 10 (at night) to 6 in the morning, and then I would go open up the parking booth at 1221 Kapiolani from 7 (a.m.) to 2:30 (p.m.).
Q: How did you find time for your personal life?
A: Oh, I know! (Laughter) But since I had just come from Samoa, I needed the money, so I had two jobs.
Q: When did you start working at ProPark's Seaside Avenue location?
A: Actually, my first location was 1221 Kapiolani -- you know, the old Blackfield Building on Kapiolani. You know, where the pancake place was. They had good pancakes there.
Q: Where else did you work?
A: When we lost that location (to a competitor), my manager put me at Keeaumoku, in the Pacific Guardian Tower -- the marble-stone building where they have Pacific Guardian Life Insurance.
Q: When did you start working at Seaside?
A: About three to four years ago. My manager, Richard Leong, the owner of the parking lot company, he put me here because it was busier.
Q: Do you have a favorite parking lot to work at?
A: Oh yes -- everywhere they put me. I always love working with people, you know. And I love working here in Waikiki. I meet a lot of people. And I love them and they love me. I'm very happy to work here at Waikiki Parking Garage.
Q: Is there a ticket-dispensing machine that the customers use as they drive in, or do they have to check with you first and pay up front.
A: Yes, there's a dispenser machine in the front before my booth. They press the button and ticket will come out. The daily rate they have to pay before they park; the $2 half-hour rate is only if you go in half an hour or one hour. So they take a ticket when they go in, and they pay when they go out.
Q: Is there any sort of an audio recording on the ticket-dispensing machine that you have to listen to over and over again all day?
A: Oh no, we don't have that.
Q: What do you do when there are no customers coming or going? Do you get to listen to a radio or watch TV or anything like that?
A: Actually, none of those. Over here at my location, I got a lot of paperwork, because I deal with the monthlies, and also the daily customers, and the rentals; Thrifty Car Rental, they have their office next door, but they rent the top floor from us, so they have all their cars on the 10th floor, and what they do is, they pull a ticket and they sign it or they stamp it. They have a stamp from our company so that when they come out they can stamp it so they don't have to pay.
We also have the loading zone. We have big trucks with coolers, so I'm always busy every day. They pull a ticket and then they sign; I have a log for the truck guys to sign when they're here to deliver to the restaurants and such.
Q: They pull into your parking lot?
A: Yes, because it's a big parking lot, with a tall roof, so they can come in and go out.
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Mary Stowers is a parking attendant and cashier with ProPark Inc., which was started by Hawaii resident Richard Leong in 1980. Stowers has been with the company almost 18 years, these days working at its Waikiki Parking Garage on Seaside Avenue. Above, Stowers greeted Star-Bulletin photographer Richard Walker, who was there to photograph her "at work."
How many cars do you figure come into the lot each day?
A: Oooh, 800, 900 cars, you know, because we have monthly parkers, almost 400, and the daily rate is close to 400 as well. Sometimes 500. So it's kind of busy.
Q: Are you happy with the shift you have?
A: Oh yes, that's enough for me. (Laughter) Sometimes I couldn't even eat because I have so many paperwork. It's a lot of work, yeah? But I enjoy doing it. It keeps me busy. (Laughter)
Q: Have you ever had customers who got really mad at you because they felt they were being overcharged?
A: Actually, I haven't come across that yet. Everybody's happy. I guess it's the way I treat them. So I never had any problems.
Sometimes they come and they say they didn't know that were supposed to pay the flat rate before they go in, or sometimes it shows on the ticket that they have to pay over $20, and I have to call my boss and let them know that they can pay the flat rate, and he'll often say OK, but not to do it again.
Q: Does that happen often?
A: Not that often. Once in, like, a week or a month.
Q: Does the company have a training program of any sort to advise you on how to deal with angry customers?
A: Oh yeah. We always have training lessons from one of the guys our company hires. So we have, like, four hours training. We usually do it over at the Miramar Hotel.
Q: What's the most crazy thing you've seen going on in the parking lot? You know, like people partying or making out in their cars ...
...A: You know what? Only on the second shift things happen like that, because lot of people come in for the nightclubs. But on my shift, I don't believe I've ever had anything like that. Most of them are coming to work in Waikiki. So I cannot think of anything like that. It's always been good on my shift.
Any problems are usually on the second shift, or on the weekend anyway. Like we had one van that hit the gate and went straight out.
Q: What do you do when that happens?
A: Actually that van was four young kids, like 20 years old. One was in the van and the other three were out breaking into cars (in the parking lot), so the manager called to have them caught, and they tried to escape. But they got the license plate and gave it to the police.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: I love to meet people, and I like to deal with them. And also the managers are very good. And also our employees here, you know, we always get along. I love my job. I would never change this job for anything. I like it. I enjoy doing it.
Q: So you're going to stay with the job for awhile?
A: Oh yes. I'll stay here until I can't work anymore. I love the company, and I love the people I work with. Richard, the owner, he's a terrific guy. So I'm very happy here. The other company asked me I would work for them (when they took over the Blackfield Building location), but I said, 'I'm sorry, but I love my company and I'm going to stay.' "