Valet parking has got to be one of the most annoying and inconvenient ‘conveniences’ ever invented. On the surface and in principal it may look good, but when it comes down to the reality of it the hazards are many, and I for one will do almost anything to avoid it. In fact, I doubt that it was ever invented to be a convenience, but rather as a means to create jobs in a tough job market. In Atlanta, where I live, one only has to look around and count the myriad restaurants, counting at least one valet employee for each (although they often populate a given establishment in droves) to get an idea of the kinds of numbers we are talking about.

This phenomenon would seem to be one that has occurred largely since somewhere in the 1990’s…it didn’t used to be like this. In the past you would drive to a given restaurant, park your car, and go inside. When leaving you would walk out, walk to your car, get in and drive away. Simple.

Now, however, on arriving at the same restaurant you find yourself in a line even before you’ve opened the restaurant’s door…a line for valet parking, of course. In the best case scenario, once you have reached the head of the line, you get out, hand over your car to the attendant and hope that the receipt you are given actually does in fact correspond to your car.

When you leave the restaurant, there you are in a line again–this time to, with luck, repossess the car you drove in with. At this point there is often a snag or two…first just the wait for an available valet person, then the wait for him/her to find your car and manage to bring it to where you are waiting.

Then, assuming that it is in fact your car that has been delivered, you must (of course) tip the valet–perhaps for a ‘service’ that you never even wanted, and then get into your car to sit in yet another line while you wait for the way to clear so that you can finally leave. This, as previously stated is in a “best case scenario”, for in fact it rarely gets any better than this. Not so simple.

I have heard others complain that their chief gripe with valet services is having their car’s body scratched or dented due to the carelessness of the valet drivers. Also, that some valets consider themselves to be displaced race car jockeys just looking for their next trophy—and your car is just one more to practice on—so that ‘laying rubber’ on starts or stops as well as negotiating hairpin turns around the parking lot’s further reaches are only a few of the maneuvers that your car could likely be subjected to on its way to and from its temporary resting place.

Although these are legitimate concerns for anyone to have, I will have to admit that these are most frequently the things that men gripe about on the subject of valets. Women have other grievances, in addition to, although not necessarily replacing, these.

One of the most common criticisms among women drivers is that when the valet returns their cars to them, the driver’s seat has often been moved into a place located in the general vicinity of the trunk–so that often the car’s rightful driver can’t begin to get anywhere near the floor pedals. It would seem that the least the valet could do would be to return the seat to some ‘neutral territory’–somewhere half-way between the trunk and the steering wheel would help–and at least give the rightful driver a fighting chance of reclaiming his original position–as well as control over the car.

In my own experience, one time in particular stands out in my mind when I think of valet parking, where what might have originally appeared to be a good idea, in terms of convenience, was in fact not such a good idea at all.

It was pouring down rain–one of those prolonged and violent cloudbursts in which no moderately sane person would ever be caught. However, there I was, having arrived at the restaurant where I was to meet a friend.

As I pulled into the parking lot I was counting my lucky stars, as there appeared a parking place within a few feet of the front door. Just as I was making my way to it, having to stop to wait for a car in front of me to pull out, my door swung open and there stood—a VALET!!

This was quite a shock, especially because as of two weeks previous to this night, no such thing existed at this restaurant. But there he was–dripping and drenched in this torrential rain and I really did feel sorry for him. And I had no choice about choosing his services or not, as, I was dismayed to discover, this had become the latest modus operandi for this restaurant’s parking lot. So I got out and he got into my car…I didn’t think too much more about it at that point except that this was a miserable night for his kind of work.

Later, when I came out of the restaurant, the rain had let up a bit, but conditions were still more than slightly soggy by anyone’s assessment. In any event, my car was retrieved–from the place which I had originally seen when I had first pulled in–about 15 feet in front of where I stood waiting. I tipped the attendant, still empathetic to his saturated state.

I got into my car and drove away…and about 30 seconds down the road I was suddenly feeling fairly ‘damp’ myself.

Suddenly I realized that the valet, dripping as he was and had been, had thoroughly soaked the entire car seat…and now I was sitting in a virtual swampland and undoubtedly getting wetter than I would have had I just parked my own car in the first place.

This valet thing is definitely getting out of hand here in Atlanta…I wonder if it is a localized disease or a national epidemic. In addition to the restaurants, which seem to be the #1 perpetrators of this problem, malls are also offering (but not requiring–at least so far!) valet parking, which annoyingly ties up hundreds of would-be parking places (often left empty) for us do-it-yourself types.

The other day I was horrified to see that even the grocery store which I most often use has jumped on this band-wagon of self-indulgence, which means that now nothing is immune to the terrors of this plague.

Actually, all this valet parking could turn out to be a good thing. Faced with having to suffer the inconvenience as well as the perils of having your car parked by a valet, more people might start opting for bicycles–or even the bus. What would a valet do with a bike? Or a bus?

In the end valet parking could be what the environmentalists have been looking for for years to cause people to voluntarily cut down on driving. Of course, things might go too far in that direction and instead of taking a bike or a bus, people will just decide not to go out at all–and this would be sad for the restaurants–unless this would cause them to finally figure out that it is not worth it to institute valet parking just to appear chic. I, for one, am a do-it-yourself-er whenever possible and I would WELCOME the chance to be able to once more do-it-myself when it comes to parking my car.

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