The same year that I was a used car salesmen I was also a valet parker at a 5-star hotel and resort. Valet was another job that I had always been curious about and at the time I was just starting my writing career by posting articles on a blog that only a handful of loyal people enjoyed. I couldn’t live off a freelance writer’s income, and the holidays were breathing down my neck. I needed a cash job and valet seemed like the perfect solution.
I didn’t work for the hotel directly, I worked for the parking company the worked for the hotel. The first day on the job I learned where I was going to be running all day. The resort was built on a massive hill, and the lobby was at the very top. Guests drive up and we drive their cars downhill into an underground garage, and then run back up hill for the next car. Every 8-hour shift was a decent cardio workout of running up and down the same hill with periods of rest in the form of standing on your feet. What I disliked most about the job was the uniforms which were about as charming as a fart joke.
A Member’s Only jacket grey colored button down shirt with military green dress pants. I looked more like a park ranger trainee than a valet at a fancy hotel. Doesn’t help when you are trying to impress a Lexus filled with young ladies on a night on the town. The only reason I wanted to be there was because I wanted to be an automotive journalist and I needed to get behind the wheel of modern cars in order to get familiar with them. The pockets full of cash at the end of the day was an added bonus.
Ferris Bueller Experience
Hands down the most interesting car I drove while working there was the Tesla Model S. I was working the late shift and Tesla was at the hotel for a convention with 2 Model S cars to show to potential customers. It was already night time when one of the Model S rolled quietly into the lobby driveway like a gust of wind. The Tesla rep asked me to park it and briefly explained to me how to plug it into an outlet so it can be charged.
The resort is a few miles out of San Antonio, TX, so at night the place is dead quiet with nothing but the sound of the Texas wilderness for a soundtrack. It’s so far out that the nearest gas station is 5 miles away. The only buildings near the resort are white collar neighbors where the only old cars you see belong to the working class.
Getting in and starting up the Tesla Model S was a new experience for a guy who was used to pumping the gas a few times before turning the key. I later compared it to what it must have been like for people who were used to riding horses and now had to learn how to drive a Ford Model T. I was the only valet on duty that night and I heard that there were no late night check-ins, so it was going to be a dead night. I drove the Tesla down into the garage and give the throttle a stab in order to feel the Tesla’s instant torque.
The instant torque was enough for the speed demon in me to come out and take over. Without thinking I drove the Model S out of the garage and onto the empty streets that led from the resort to the main highway. No engine noise meant I could put my foot down and get a taste of the future as it reached triple digits speeds. I am lucky I did not wrap it around a tree or get caught. A 10 min joy ride was enough for me to get the need for speed itch off my back. I cannot wait to drive another Tesla again, this time with permission.
The hotel has two of the most exclusive restaurants in the city, meaning that they are outrageously overpriced, $80 a person. Most nights the guests that valet their cars were people staying for dinner. One gentleman was driving a Mercedes s550 who was going to have dinner with some friends at the bar. Coworkers mentioned that he was a regular and that I should be extra nice because he had a habit of tipping well.
The hours went by and night fell. The gentleman walked out of the lobby and he handed me his ticket. Keys in hand I went into the garage to look for his ride but couldn’t find it. Trying not to panic at the idea that someone had stolen the car, while remembering if I had locked the car to begin with, I walked out of the garage. I was about to run back up the hill when I spotted the car hiding in the common guest parking lot.
One $20 tip later and he was on his way. Less than a minute had past when my boss walked over to me to ask where the keys to that Mercedes was. His eyes widen in disbelief and fear when I explained that he had just left. Apparently the car was hidden because the staff at the bar had called my boss telling him not to let him drive home because he was too drunk. Looking back, he must have been an experienced drinker because I didn’t see him stumble or slur his words. He was a lot taller than me so that is probably why I couldn’t smell the whiskey chasers on his breath.
The rest of the night I kept worrying that I was going to drive home and see a Mercedes spread out like bread crumbles all over the road, or wake up to find out he had killed someone in a DUI accident. You can’t hide a car from a drunk and warn the only valet out on the driveway, so I didn’t get into too much trouble. Thankfully nothing bad happened that night and no news of arrests or accidents came up.
Always amazed at how dirty some of the cars I parked were. One in particular was a Mercedes coupe that smelled like the state of Colorado the day they legalized marijuana. It was so dirty that everything from the steering wheel to the power window switches felt greasy or sticky. Then I saw the owner and I found out why everything in the interior had a texture to it. The woman was wearing a gallon of makeup on her face and was carrying a Paris Hilton looking dog with her. No amount of makeup could hide the fact that her skin was breaking out from her pores being drowned in contour and blush.
7 out of 10 times I spotted a concealed handgun poking out of the gut of a camo wearing Texan as he stepped down from his Super Duty pickup. Trying to park those diesel burning mammoths was always annoying since the garage had narrow spaces. I used to admire lifted trucks, but after parking a few them, now I don’t understand why people love driving them in the city.
The Work Environment
My co-workers were mostly college frat guys who liked this job because it was simple and it was great for beer money. A few of them were serious car-guys but most were just fans of the typical rides you see in Fast & Furious movies or Need for Speed video games.
There was often a lot of downtime waiting for guests to drive up so I carried a small notepad where I would write down article ideas. The frat guys couldn’t believe that someone actually enjoyed writing for fun, so needless to say I didn’t make live long friends at that job. Maybe they thought my dream of being one of the top automotive writers was like them saying they wanted to be the next Kobe Bryant.
This was also the time when Uber was just starting in the city of San Antonio and everyone with a new-ish car and a license was hitting the streets. I witness taxi cab drivers argue with Uber drivers to the point that they wanted to throw punches. Not picking sides but I understand why Cabbies were so upset.
The best day of work was when the hotel was hosting a stay for a vintage car rally and we had vintage cars from Ferrari, Jaguar, Lamborghini, Alfa Romeo, Austin Healey, MG, Morgan, etc. driving up to the lobby. They didn’t trust us to park any of these cars, to my relief, but just being up close to these six figure cars was a thrill.
What I learned
I learned that valets are like the waiters of the car-world. Treat them wrong and there is a good chance your car will take the punishment for it. I don’t trust valets, not because I think they are all going to go joy riding in my car but because I know that people don’t care unless they own it.
Always park your own car if possible and much like with a waiter or waitress, the bigger the tip the better the service… most times.