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