VAL Gorecki admits that he’s briefly bemused when he’s at work and a complete stranger tells him to get a life. “I always pause and think, ‘But I’ve got a life. I’ve got a great life’. The other one is, ‘Get a real job’. I can’t actually imagine another job that’s so much in contact with what’s going on in my city.”
Gorecki, 61, is an authorised parking officer with the City of Melbourne. Yep, a parking cop.
He joined the force four years ago and clearly remembers his elderly mother’s words. “She said, in her lovely Polish accent, ‘Oh my God, you’re going to be one of the most hated people in the world!’”
He’d never seen it that way. “I’m passionate about the city and I think we’re really lucky to be able to drive in and park so close … I always thought parking officers were doing an important job.”
Bouquets and occasional brickbats are nothing new to Gorecki. As a youngster he studied singing and piano at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, then taught music for six years. Landing a role in the 1982 musical Barnum, Gorecki moved to Sydney to study acting at NIDA.
“I was in Sydney for about 17 years, earning a living as a performer, mainly on stage. I did a few musicals, including 42nd Street. I sang and acted; I’m a lousy dancer. But I knew from a young age that there was such a commitment you had to make to that lifestyle – and I wasn’t that good.”
Gorecki returned to Melbourne and, after 12 years with a bank, spotted a “customer service” job with the City of Melbourne.
He says it truly is a customer service role; as well as being a parking cop, he’s a tour guide and photo-taker. “That would happen a dozen times a day. Quite often, I’ll have stopped writing a ticket to help someone, the driver returns in the meantime, no ticket is issued, everyone walks away happy.”
He writes an average of 38-40 tickets per day and naturally not everyone’s happy. “But people are not as nasty as you would think. And it’s about my attitude. If someone comes up and they’re hugely abusive, my immediate response is to say, ‘Hello!’ It seems to disarm them.”
The ticketing procedure involves checking a car for an on-line payment or special permits, taking a series of photos, then keying codes into a smartphone-type device. “At every point, we can stop, and if the driver returns I usually do. When you hit ‘print’, that’s the point of no return.”
In his youth, Gorecki and a friend drove a 1922 Bentley from Adelaide to Melbourne. In Sydney, he owned an actor-worthy Toyota Corolla, “which eventually fell apart”. But the job has given him a solid appreciation for cars.
His stable today includes a Porsche Boxster and a motorcycle for sunny weekends, along with a Chrysler Sebring and motor scooter for commuter duties.
He says there’s one thing on the job that still throws him. “A car like a Lamborghini or an Aston Martin photographs so beautifully – even though I’m booking them. And someone walking past will say, ‘Give ’em double! They can afford it’. That upsets me. This person has worked hard for that car.”