Valet parking. The name itself just oozes class, sophistication, and convenience. And the best part is that for a nominal fee, you get to forget about the hassles of searching for a parking spot yourself.
But it's also a service you should try to never utilize.
While movies tend to exaggerate most things, valet parking is one job that is nearly exactly the same as it is portrayed. Ferris Bueller's Day Off is actually stunningly accurate.
If you work in a restaurant, you won't eat the food because you know what happens in the kitchen. Well, I've seen the kitchen that is valet parking, and I will never eat that food or get close to it.
In my late teens, when I wasn't working at Walmart, I took a part time job over breaks from school valet parking cars outside some ridiculously expensive stores at a suburban mall near my home. The clientele drove everything from Civics to Maybachs, so we had quite the range of cars in our possession at all times.
The first thing to know, is that if you really must use a valet, your best bet is to keep an eye on them as they park the car. If you thought that giving a 19-year old the keys to a Mercedes S65 AMG is a good idea, you got another thing coming.
People with limited experience behind the wheel and over 600 horsepower is not really a smart mix. There would be times where fellow valets would see just how fast a car could go in the tight parking garage where we left the rides. Mix in the fact that a valet that can't really drive stick might be trusted with a Porsche 993 Turbo, and this can be a recipe for disaster.
And guess what? Irresponsible behavior like this causes accidents. We had one memorable accident — I wasn't involved — where the front end was nearly ripped off a Dodge Magnum while a large SUV was being parked. Instead of telling the owner, it was hastily reassembled on the spot and given back.
There were frequent fender benders, cars being backed into poles, and even cars bumping others right in front of the owners. Did valets own up to their mistakes? Nearly never. Even more shocking? The owners didn't really seem to care, even when they witnessed the accident.
I've also seen vans that were too tall for a parking garage be driven in and bang the roof on the height warning signs. In a lot of cases, your car is going to come back worse than when you dropped it off. Hell, some people smoked in the cars they were parking.
Here's a free tip: If you park a car with a valet, assume something dubious is going to happen and look it over thoroughly before and after it's parked.
Now, I'm an honest guy, so the most shocking part of the job I encountered was the treatment of some customers. Our regular price was $8, but depending on what you drove, a "VIP Service" was available for a mere $20. That got you "exclusive" parking in one of the first spots in the garage.
The "service" was only sold to people that looked like they had a ton of money, appeared gullible, or requested their cars be up front. And sometimes, employees waited until the customer was paying to tell them the extra charge.
Did you get your car quicker? No. Was it driven with more care? No. Was it a rip-off? Hell yeah.
The best part is that we were encouraged to work quickly to get more cars parked. Obviously, this is especially effective around Black Friday and the holidays. And when your job is driving and parking, working quickly means driving quickly.
The rush contributes to the mistake prone atmosphere, but it has more to do with putting trust in people that don't give a rat's ass about your car that's worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
It's one of those services that makes your life easier and can possibly ruin a large investment a matter of minutes. Just stay away.
Photo Credit: miss-britt via flickr, Shutterstock.com