by Amanda Raber
A lot of my adult decisions are based on convenient parking. Having spent a good deal of my 20’s working as a valet attendant might have something to do with this.
It wasn’t the job I imagined myself getting out of college. I chose my small liberal arts university in Central Illinois in large part because of their boast of a highly successful career center. I didn’t know what exactly I wanted to do when I chose to go there, but parking cars downtown Chicago was not on the list.
After working and studying hard at the university for 3.5 years I went to the career center and declared that I wanted a job in script writing or video editing – like I was doing in the internship that they lined me up with. Their response was that they “don’t really do that.”
I said, “What are you talking about. I came here because of the great career center. You matched me with an internship that I love. Let’s continue that.” They said they could help me out if I was a business or a nursing major, but they don’t really do anything with English majors.
I graduated with my illustrious English/Writing degree (sarcasm very much implied), a student loan debt with more numbers than I’d ever seen written down before and no job prospects, so I moved in with my boyfriend’s family and tried to get a job in town. I could have gone back to my tiny hometown, but if I went back now, I was afraid I’d never get out. This college town was a small step up, but it’s not exactly a fountain of opportunity either. I applied to many of the stores in the mall and a few offices around town and still came up empty, so my boyfriend called in a favor with his friend and got me hired at a local pizza shop.
It was fine. My co-workers were nice. But the owner thought I was useless. I mean, he wasn’t wrong. I’m really awkward on the phone, I often don’t pick up on things that are “common sense,” and when I got a prank phone call on the business phone I just giggled into the receiver. Then I noticed the boss looming over me. He held out his hand for me to put the phone in. When he put the phone to his ear, all he heard was sound clips of Arnold Schwarzenegger catch phrases like “Who is your daddy and what does he do” and “It’s not a tumor!” I stood by and continued giggling as the furrow in his brow deepened and he glared at me like this was somehow my doing. He hung up the phone and walked away.
I didn’t last long there, but I did learn how to make a great Italian beef sandwich.
The boyfriend and I decided to move to Chicago for greener pastures and he called in another favor with a friend who owned a valet company. Which was also fine. It would pay the bills while I looked for other jobs closer to what I had in mind for myself, I learned to drive stick shift, the co-workers were for the most part fun. But also some of them were, as they put it, “shady as hell.”
Many of them were recent grads like myself, some of them were new to the country, some were just working here and there to make extra money and some had records that made it hard for them to get other jobs. And the shady ones could fall into any and all of those categories. Of course the ones who kissed the boss’s ass the most were the worst offenders. This is where I became familiar with the term “fell of a truck.” All of a sudden two or three of the guys would have fancy new phones and when I commented on them they said they fell off a truck. I was gullible enough to believe them, but when that same response was used again and again, usually with mild snickering, I wised up.
One of our best guys had a policy of always taking any change that was in a car. He figured it’s no big deal to these people, but it adds up for him. He only stopped this practice when he was hit with a repair bill for his own car for the exact amount that he had stolen in change. He concluded it must be karma telling him to change his ways and he went straight. (When I played devil’s advocate and suggested that maybe it was the opposite – maybe it was a good thing that he had stolen all that change so that he could afford the car repair, he looked at me like I’d just insulted his mother).
One of them was more bold and proudly showed us the Game Boy that he’d taken from a car. We did make him aware that this was not cool and he should put it back in the car. He walked off saying that he was going to put the Game Boy back, but I’m not certain that he actually did.
Then there are the ones who treated the job like a personal test driving queue. They’d hop in the fast-looking ones and see how fast they could get them going up and down Lake Shore Drive – and yes – sometimes wreck them.
All this in addition to the minor dings and scrapes that come with packing as many cars as possible into a small space in order to increase profits. If we could put them in the tiny lot around the corner, our return time was a lot shorter than if we used the garage three blocks away. The shorter the wait, the better the tip, so…
And some of them were just not great drivers.
After five years of witnessing these varying degrees of dishonesty and negligence, valet parking is definitely a deterrent when I’m going somewhere. I’m in no way saying ALL valets are like this. Some of them were model citizens with hearts of gold. But I don’t want to play those odds with my car. If there’s a place that’s easy to get to where I can put my car myself, I’m in. But if I have to hand my keys over to someone else, no thank you.
In a roundabout way, maybe my college’s failure as a career center actually led me to learn more valuable things that I wouldn’t have otherwise known. Still not sure if it’s worth all the student loan debt, though.