My Not-Chic Life: Everywhere You Go Has Valet

Does anyone remember the movie Clueless from the 1990’s?

There’s a scene in the movie in which Alicia Silverstone is learning to drive. Someone offers to teach her how to park, and she replies: “What’s the point? Everywhere you go has valet.”everywhere you go has valet

I think of that scene a lot these days.

In certain sections of Atlanta, EVERYWHERE you go has valet — restaurants and bars, of course, but also Waffle House, the camping store and the hospital.

Last week I had to rush a friend to the Emergency Room at Emory University Hospital in Midtown. A valet greeted me in front of the E.R. (“We also offer self-park service,” he told me.)

Thanks to an enormous amount of development squeezed, New York-style, into a tiny cross-section of Atlanta’s central blocks, parking spaces are next-to-nonexistent. Unfortunately, unlike New York, our public transportation stinks. Hence the usefulness of valet: parking is at such a premium that hiring valets is the most ‘efficient’ way a business can ensure its tiny parking space is optimized. In most places, valet service is complimentary.

But — and there’s a but — Atlanta is also one of those cities where “you are what you drive”. In Cincinnati and Boulder, Colo., the other two cities in which I’ve lived, a BMW is considered impressive; here it’s de rigour. I spot at least three or four Mercedes every time I leave my house, and this is the only city where I cruise past get passed by the occasional Bentley or Aston Martin. Needless to say, the flavor of cars in this city jives nicely with its chic, “everywhere-you-go-has-valet” image.

And then I roll in … pulling up to the valet in my 13-year-old car. I hand the valet my keys and say, “Um, you have to jiggle the lock a little to the left.”

Of course, my words to the valet aren’t the worst. My roommate tells the valet something no Southerner wants to hear: “Sorry, I don’t have air-conditioning.”

My 6-foot, 2-inch boyfriend requests a tall valet: “Sorry man, you can’t adjust the seat – it’s stuck.” (I can’t drive his car — I mean, I physically can’t drive his car — for this reason.)

Apparently, our household isn’t the only one that goes through this. Finance writer Len Penzo got a taste of valet service when he took his entire extended family to a hotel:

They even greeted us warmly as we pulled up to the lobby — despite the fact we drove up in a 10-year old minivan that ended up looking more like a clown car after we opened the doors and everyone managed to finally stagger out.

But despite the many, many times I’ve valeted my car in Atlanta — going to doctor’s appointments, buying a tent, grabbing a burrito — my favorite valet experience is my first one:

I was working as a recruiter for the Peace Corps in Boulder, Colo. The “regional office” in Denver, a whopping 30 minutes away, called all the recruiters from its territory — Wyoming, Utah, Kansas — to come to Denver for a meeting.

I lived within daily commuting distance from Denver, but by policy, since I was technically coming from “out-of-town,” they were required to put me in a hotel. And not just any hotel: the Brown Palace, one of Denver’s oldest and nicest hotels. It’s the hotel where President Bush stays when he comes to Denver. Love him or hate him, the President stays in some swanky hotels.

Obviously, the hotel included valet service. And I drove a — I’m not joking — a 22-year-old car. The body rusted through in so many places that rain and snow would splash onto my lap as I drove.

For weeks, I anticipated pulling up to the valet at the Brown Palace, handing him my keys and — in the snootiest tone possible — commanding: “Don’t scratch it.”

I didn’t live the dream, though. The car died on the 30-minute drive to Denver. Apparently it couldn’t handle speeds up to 50 mph. It looks like I’d have to get to the Presidential hotel on the city bus.


    • says

      @Kevin — Yeah, the idea of 16-year-old boys hot-rodding my … er … 1990’s Camry … well, nevermind. But having traveled in a lot of countries with a weak rule-of-law, and learning to be suspicious of scams, I certainly hate the idea of handing my keys to a stranger, at least without a signed waiver, full set of fingerprints, and a tracking device on the guy who has my keys.

      Unfortunately, valet in a lot of places is MANDATORY — as in, the restaurant won’t allow you to self-park. That’s why the guy at the hospital so kindly offered me a self-park option — it’s rare.

  1. says

    I have valeted in the past but I prefer to walk if I can. To me it’s bonus exercise if I have to park farther away. And valet can get expensive and it isn’t always worth it to me. However, in winter when it’s minus 40 C, I am more readily to pay the fee.

    • says

      @Miss T — Unfortunately over here, there’s no where to park! This isn’t true of all neighborhoods in Atlanta, but in certain places, it’s the only option. Fortunately I live in Midtown, so I can walk to some places from my apartment…. but if I can’t walk, I’m stuck valeting.

  2. says

    I do park myself whenever possible but have valeted as well. There are some places downtown where it is easier to have your car parked for you and others where you can park in a public garage and walk just as easily.

  3. says

    I’ve used Valet service a few times for charity events because it was complimentary… and at a few places where its mandatory (like restaurants)…

    But normally I park and walk if its an option because A) its good exercise… and B) its free.

  4. says

    We once got free valet with a hotel booking. Handing over our little manual 1990 Familia rusty hatch with non-working windows and broken seats was pretty embarrassing.

  5. says

    Valet is NUTTY on Long Island. It is ridiculous! The most frustrating one is when you can see your car in the tiny parking lot but have to wait in the cold for your car.

    • says

      @krantcents — I had a hard time getting used to it when I moved here! Some places — like the hospital — let you self-park, and some are close enough to street parking that you can try to do that instead, but the “mandatory” valet places that have zero street parking within a half-mile radius are a tough pill to swallow. I’ve learned not to mind it so much when its free, but when it costs money PLUS tip, it still bugs me.

  6. says

    Sometimes I like the excuse of required valet! Generally it’s a no-go for me though. Fairly recently the valet folks at a place in Dallas parked everyone in a vacant lot which was not a legal parking spot. The police gave all the cars tickets! I don’t know what happened in the end. My guess is the valet company had to take the blame, but who knows. I still thought it was a funny story. Probably less funny if it was your car!

  7. says

    Here in Kansas City, valet parking is almost always a luxury, and not a necessity, like you describe. I imagine that took some getting used to when you moved there.

    And the cars? Sounds like more “big hat, no cattle” types than Millionaire Next Door types. My husband and son would be in heaven though. They love cars!

    • says

      @Julie — “Big hat, no cattle” — I like that expression! I don’t remember hearing that phrase, though it sounds somehow familiar. I’ve always described it as “All flash, no cash.” :-)

  8. says

    Valeting here in the UK is oh so rare unless you’re at a seriously plush hotel or at an out of town car park for an airport. Either way rocking up in my clapped out Yaris, which doesn’t really keen on reversing these days, would be very entertaining!

  9. says

    The only time I valet is when it’s free – like at a wedding or a corporate party. My car is usually strewn with half-full sippy cups and WWE action figures. Even though these are nice places, I guess I’m not too worried about being judged by a person who parks cars for a living. If anything, their cars probably look the same as mine. :)

  10. says

    LOL! I couldn’t believe it when one of my favorite shopping centers decided to inflict valet parking on us.

    Incredibly, though, they placed the valets on the north side, where all the parking is in the sun. The two-story parking garage is still come-one come-all. It used to be that no one bothered to park on the second floor, so even at Christmastime and during summer and post-Xmas sales you could get a place to park. Now that my fellow cheapskates are pushed to find free parking, that’s no longer so.

    In Phoenix, because of the lack of decent public transit, if I have to pay to park I don’t go there. It’s just too, too easy to find the same products online. No reason to pay to go to a mall full of chain stores!

    • says

      @Funny about Money — It’s amazing, isn’t it, how no one seems to think about the sun when they plan anything? Park the cars in full sun in Arizona!! There’s a hotel in Vegas that’s built at such an angle that the sun reflects off the glass windows directly onto the pool, causing what guests have dubbed the “death ray” effect. Funny how no one considers this … people act as if the sun’s angles are so unpredictable ….

  11. says

    I wouldn’t worry about driving an older car in Atlanta when getting valet-ed, haha, for every BMW and Mercedes you are seeing, your eyes are obviously ignoring what everyone on my side of town drives! Got an old, rusty car that’ll barely go? Got a little money to fix it up? Great! Let’s put gigantic tires with spinners on it…

  12. says

    I used to park cars and let me tell you, it doesn’t matter if you drive a 7 series BMW or an old Camry. If it had a stick shift we would find a way to race it around the block. We would compete to see who could burn the most rubber. We would do donuts. We would push those cars to the limit during the short trip to the lot. Watch the driver next time and see if he doesn’t speed up as he rounds the corner. The car may have an odd smell. That’s your clutch being burned. The cars are insured, but you still have the hassle of getting it fixed. The only solution, but no guarantee, is to tip well when dropping off as well as picking up. Often it will be a different driver. I always thought it was odd that the drivers are tipped the least while they have the greatest responsibility of anyone in the service industry.

    Oh, and if you leave a little bud in the ashtray don’t be surprised if it’s gone when you return.

    • says

      @Peter — LOL!! I always thought that its a curious practice to hand your car keys to a bunch of (usually) teenage or twentysomething guys who are, most likely, car enthusiasts. It sounds like a recipe for getting your car raced!! I’m glad to hear that cars get raced regardless of whether they’re a BMW or an old Camry — at least there’s a little bit of equal-opportunity racing there, although that means my boyfriend’s 1997 Honda is probably getting raced around corners. I’m also feeling relieved that I drive an automatic!

  13. says

    It’s all about priorities. Some expenses are worth it to me because they are things or experiences I value and enjoy, regardless of how anyone else feels about them. Other things (like an iPhone, for example) are not important to me so I don’t choose to spend money on them even as my friends fawn over them.

    Even people I know with quite a bit of money won’t pay big bucks on something if they don’t think it’s worth the price. It needs to be a good value and something they really want or need.

    • says

      @MortonK — Precisely. I believe in spending lavishly on the things that are most important to you and cutting ruthlessly on the things that are not. I spend a whopping percentage of my income on travel, and almost nothing on cars. A car enthusiast, however, would probably do the opposite. It’s all about setting priorities.

  14. Bethany Cruz says

    We also drive pre historic cars- and are proud of it. That’s your clutch being burned. If it had a stick shift we would find a way to race it around the block.

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