How does La Jolla answer the question, who are we? A look at some of our favorite neighborsCOMMUNITY BEDROCK

By Will Carless

In a salute to the individuals who brighten lives and keep La Jolla smiling, the Light spoke to a number of local characters from the fields of commerce, sports, healthcare, hospitality and the arts. These people live among us but who rise above the norm. The bright sparks, the firecrackers, the wits and the wacky, they are all here.

Babajan Mirzai has what many would consider a boring job. He stands in a parking booth at the exit of the car park for Scripps Memorial Hospital, eight hours a day, five days a week. He collects money, stamps tickets, checks disabled parking badges.

But Mizrai is not boring. He is famous.

He has been interviewed by television channels and radio sations. He's been featured in magazines and on training videos nationwide. Babajan Mirzai is the Thank You Man.

Even before he begins his interview, Mirzai's "thank you" flood is flowing thick and fast, the phrase ending and beginning even the most mundane sentences.

"Thank you for parking."

"Thank you for smiling."

"Thank you for thanking me."

It is impossible not to smile. And many of Mirzai's customers feel the same. His boss says that the line to the Thank You Man's booth is almost always the longest.

"Sometimes," Mirzai said, "some people, they come and just make a U (turn) and say, 'Thank you.' I've got many, maybe four of five customers, they just come in regularly and make a U-turn and then come back and say, 'I just came to say hello to the Thank You Man.' "

As the cars reel past Mirzai's booth in a seemingly endless flow - the hospital brings in some 4,000 cars a day, - the Thank You Man drowns each customer in a sea of "thank yous." The faces inside display confusion and amusement. Some of the drivers know what to expect, and they are ready with a quip and a grin. Other drivers are upset, pale or sick. Some are just in a bad mood.

"I had a customer come the other day," said Mirzai, "and pull a ticket, and when I said 'Good morning, how are you today?' she said, 'Shut up.' I said, 'Thank you for saying shut up.' She looked at me, then she went to the doctor and came back two hours later on with a gift from Nordstrom. She gave me hug and cried and said, 'I had a bad day. You made a big difference.' "

The thought of giving pain or heartache a back seat, if only for a few moments, is what the Thank You Man strives for with his quirky obsession. More than just a gimmick, he views his trademark as a means to alleviate some of the suffering that passes by the Perspex window of his booth.

"People are here, they're sad, they're angry or something like that. They go to the doctor, they're sick. I try to make them so happy," he said. "But, thank you for asking me."

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