Valet tales: The dirty truth
Sordid tales of parking lot attendants abusing customers' cars are classic lore, but there is another side to the story. We examine both points of view - and find they are equally ugly.
If you haven't watched the popular Internet video of parking lot attendants gone wild at the Downtown Hyatt hotel in St. Louis, Mo., it is worth a gander. After viewing this disturbing clip, which shows smoking burnouts and cars drift-sliding between the parking structure's massive concrete pillars, we bet most self-respecting car owners would rather drop their toddler off at a biker bar for a playdate than let another flippant valet get behind the wheel of their precious automobile ever again.
Of course, stories of crazed parking lot attendants abusing customers' cars have been social lore since the days when Ford's Model T was the most popular machine on American roadways. But now that everyone from the Jackass generation (kudos to you, Johnny Knoxville) wants to be a star and can capture video with their cell phones and post it to the Web, what were once the private hijinks of a few buffoons are now some of the most commonly clicked cinematic masterpieces on the Internet.
But how often does this type of abuse take place?
Valets gone wrong
While the St. Louis video is hilarious (if you don't own any of the cars featured, of course), we scoured the Web and found plenty of similar stories of dented fenders and scratched paint caused by real or imagined valet miscues, and came up with a few that will have you shaking your heads in disbelief.
For instance, not too long ago, a well-meaning but overenthusiastic valet employed by a well-known Dallas restaurant used a patron's car to chase a thief fleeing with another customer's Lexus LS 460L. The chase was something out of a Hollywood movie script, with 180-degree turns and the predictable metal-to-metal bumps and scrapes that one would expect from such a high-octane pursuit. Of course, both vehicles were trashed in the exchange.
In British Columbia, a valet jumped a curb outside the Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel and careened through the plate-glass doors that fronted the busy international-departures terminal, eventually stopping near the Delta Air Lines check-in counter. (I wonder how much that piece of luggage would cost to check in.)
Another valet, employed in Boca Raton, Fla., crashed a car through a second-floor concrete wall. The vehicle landed in a heap on the sidewalk below. Luckily, no one was injured. According to the report in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the attendant reportedly drove the 2001 Lincoln Town Car forward into a red Toyota, and then shifted into reverse and plowed through a retaining wall. The vehicle's owner, who was patiently waiting for the valet to retrieve his Town Car, stepped out of the hotel lobby just as it landed. The valet company supposedly blamed the incident on a stuck throttle.
And finally, here is a story about a valet from Grand Rapids, Mich., who was just trying to have a little fun. He borrowed a customer's Hummer H3 and took it on a 240-km joy ride. The chic boxcar was gone for five days before the valet company bothered to notify the owner, who was traveling at the time, that it had been stolen. A quick call to OnStar had the vehicle located, disabled and recovered by police within minutes. The result: One of the company's valets pled guilty to unlawful use of a motor vehicle.
The nightly grind: A valet's perspective
While all of these incidents are horrifying, they aren't the norm. In defense of the professional valet, there are few verifiable cases of such Ferris Bueller's Day Off-type hijinks on record. There are too many security cameras, too many tracking devices, too many trip odometers and too many concierge services for anyone to get away with much these days. Still, some try.
While we couldn't get any of the participants in the above actions to comment on what they did (for legal and other reasons), we were able to interview a group of working valets to get their side of the parking saga. An unexpected picture started to emerge.
They say the real story here isn't bored valets thrashing cars, but rather thrashed cars and the customers who bring them in.
Unlike the restaurant and high-end shopping mall valets who rarely park a pickup, the ones we interviewed on the Las Vegas Strip sample a cross section of cars from Mazdas to Maybachs, and the people who own them. The one common theme in all of their stories was how poorly car owners treat their cars.
Repeatedly, we heard disgusting stories of cars filled with trash and leftover food. Much of the debris was immediately identifiable as the hasty rejects of hectic daily living: fast-food wrappers, wadded-up cigarette packs and amazing amounts of junk mail. But partially consumed food was also common, particularly chewed-on hamburgers and three-quarters-finished soft drinks.
Then there are smokers. While a few butts spread around and some stray ashes might bother some of you, it doesn't even register with these professional parking jockeys. It takes windows brown with smoke stains and the entire floor and center console being used as an ashtray to unsettle them. We were shown cell phone photos of a center console filled to overflowing with cigarette butts. Every receptacle, from shifter boot to the cubbies, was buried in used butts and ashes. It turns the stomach.
Even more disgusting were the stories about those who dip or chew tobacco. They offer their own special surprises for those who park cars. Cheap plastic or fast-food drink cups are often pressed into spittoon service by this crowd. They then leave the containers full of cud precariously balanced on the center console, often without a lid. For a clueless valet, this is a disaster waiting to happen.
And finally, it appears that a staggering number of cars stink. No surprise here. Mainly, the offending odours are just sweat and dirt. However, there is one stat that we just couldn't believe. The valets we talked to estimated that an unbelievable five per cent of all cars they park reek of urine. Pets get most of the blame, of course. But some of the attendants claim to have found bottles and cans filled with - well, let's just say they were put to range-extending use, i.e., pit stop in a bottle.
Whose stories are more disturbing?
While we cannot condone miscreant behaviour by misguided valets, we also cannot excuse the way most people care for their cars. Both parties need to respect their four-wheeled friends more. However, since car owners can do anything they want with their property, the valet's opinion, though valid, doesn't really matter.
However, we definitely think everyone should take good care of their vehicle and respect the people they entrust to service it, including valets. When you hand your keys over to an attendant, make sure the vehicle is clean and relatively clutter-free. No one should think they need to have a tetanus shot after parking a car.
Do you have any wild valet stories? Share them by posting a comment below.