Costa Rica's Freelance Parking Attendants - Las Vigías

One of the more subtle cultural aspects of living in Costa Rica is the Vigía, or the "lookout". In the U.S., if we had them, we'd probably call them freelance parking attendants. Initially, I found these guys - haven't seen a female vigía yet - a bit annoying. "Do I really need someone to help me park, put a piece of cardboard on my window, and then hit me up for a tip?", I thought.

It didn't take long, however, for me to come to appreciate their services. Parking spaces in town are scarce, tiny and awkwardly positioned. It's a real time saver to have someone wave you into an empty space, stop traffic when you're backing out, and watch your car while you're shopping. All for a mere 100 colones (20 cents). 

Each vigía has his own territory, which usually consists of a single city block. They are there typically 10 to 12 hours a day. Pictured above is our favorite vigía, Luis, who works the block orthogonal to the street on which Sean's old school is located. Luis has a quick and easy smile and loves to joke around. My sister  introduced him to the fist bump one day, so we have added that to our greeting ritual. I am happy to hand this guy his tip, and he has no problem if I'm out of change some days ... mañana I'll get it to him.

Luis has a very good street to work as you can see. It is always filled with cars. This abnormally wide street is right next to the core downtown not-free parking zone, so it's a popular location. 

Not all vigías are so diligent and friendly as Luis. On the street in front of San Isidroś farmer's market, there was a change of vigías about a year ago. The new guy, how shall I put it, ... sucks. He is not helpful, but he is right there in your face with his hand out as soon as he sees you heading to your car to leave. I stopped  parking on that street hoping to starve him out. He eventually disappeared, thank goodness. 

There is one other vigía we regularly see on a busy cross-street in the middle of a busy commercial area. He has his work cut out for him. The street is narrow and parking requires some deft handling of the car. He will guide you into your spot, but more importantly he stops traffic when you are trying to thread the needle backing out. 

The watchman aspect is not so vital down here where street crime is rare, but I suppose in a place like San José that aspect could be important. I'd think, however, that in SJ you would have to wonder if you needed a vigía for the vigía, etc. Up in SJ I've had obviously drug-crazed kids try to panhandle 100 colones off me as I headed back to my car. They weren't there when I parked, and had done absolutely nada with regards to watching over my car. At least they didn't break into it, so perhaps I should give them a tip for that!

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