It’s pretty easy to hoax people. We all want to be deceived, but only up to a point. Some hoaxes are fun and pleasant, others malicious and unpleasant. We’d like a way to tell the difference (Robert Carroll).

Oct 28, 2011

Well-planned Retirement Benefits for Bristol Zoo Parking Lot Attendant

I got this story by email from one of the readers of this blog (thanks, Alex) with inquiry of how much true is it. The story definitely deserves to be published and investigated.

Original Email

From The London Times:

Outside the Bristol Zoo, in England, there is a parking lot for 150 cars and 8 coaches, or buses.

It was manned by a very pleasant attendant with a ticket machine charging cars 1 pound (about $1.40) and coaches 5 (about $7).

This parking attendant worked there solid for all of 25 years. Then, one day, he just didn't turn up for work.

"Oh well", said Bristol Zoo Management - "we'd better phone up the City Council and get them to send a new parking attendant..."

"Err ... no", said the Council, "that parking lot is your responsibility."

"Err ... no", said Bristol Zoo Management, "the attendant was employed by the City Council, wasn't he?"

"Err ... NO!" insisted the Council.

Sitting in his villa somewhere on the coast of Spain, is a bloke who had been taking the parking lot fees, estimated at 400 pounds (about $560) per day at Bristol Zoo for the last 25 years. Assuming 7 days a week, this amounts to just over 3.6 million pounds ($7 million).

And no one even knows his name.

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Nice story, but how true is it? It looks like to be a one too good to be true. Its popularity confirms the fact that it has been published on many blogs and forums on the internet, distributed by email in numbers, and even caught the attention of the police after one person who read it made a complaint.

The situation can be clarified with the Bristol Zoo authorities, and team of journalists from the Bristol Evening Post conducted a thorough investigation on the topic and found the tale of the phantom car park attendant to be "nothing more than an urban myth". And the exact point of its origin appeared to be the Bristol Evening Post!

"A version of the story did appear in the Evening Post two years ago," explains an article in the June 13, 2009 edition of the paper, "in a feature on urban myths published to coincide with April Fools' Day."

Management at Bristol Zoo Gardens has also made their contribution in the story verification – they totally denied that there has ever been any confusion about which entity controls car parking attendants. The zoo employs more than one car parking attendant and there are several car parks available. Parking information and pricing for visitors is published on the Bristol Zoo's website:

The North car park on Clifton Down is open daily during Zoo operating days. The West car park on College road is open during peak periods and an overflow car park operates on the Downs during the high season.

Day visitors: Ј3 per car
Members: Ј1 per car
Corporate, hospitality and business visitors: Ј3 per car

Thus, not even the per-car fee supposedly charged by the swindler is correct and, although the main zoo car park does not accommodate coaches (buses), plenty of free coach parking is available in nearby streets.

 Another human point to consider: is that really possible that the most dedicated swindler could have managed to turn up for "work" seven days a week for 25 years in a row, not missing a single shift? Well, most likely, over such a time period the fake attendant would have taken at least a few days off due to illness or personal affairs.

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The Attendant by Bill Lamperes

Recently the funny urban myth got a second life, now in form of the book. Like millions of people around the world, Arizona-based writer Bill Lamperes first heard about the story after receiving a joke email, which had been forwarded from a friend.

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"I started to wonder what the guy would do with the money," he says. "You wouldn't be able to put it in the bank, because the authorities would then be able to trace the money. So pretty much all you could do, would be to build up a bigger and bigger stack of coins in your home, and spend in a big way with small change as much as you could”.

"I loved the idea so much that on the first day I sat down to start writing, I found myself ploughing straight through the first six chapters.

"Within just a few weeks, the book was finished and being mailed to the publishers."

The result, book, Bill Lamperes’ The Attendant, is already proving to be a modest hit in bookstores across the States, and is now available in British bookshops.

Real Life

While the described case is an obvious April Joke, there is at least one example of the real attempts to follow the parking lot attendant successful plot. In 2009, a Brooklyn man broke into a closed city-owned garage, opened it for public, and began charging people the modest parking fee. But his successful career lasted much less than 25 years. Next day, he has been arrested by police. Later, he has found himself facing legal charges for burglary and criminal impersonation. Not too happy end!

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Sources and Additional Information:

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