Is There Any Such Thing as Free Valet?


Is There Any Such Thing as Free Valet?

I rarely have anything nice to say about valet parking. It’s not because I’m trying to lose my job as a columnist in this magazine. It’s simply because I hate to part with my money, and I especially hate to part with my money to pay for something I can do myself.
For those who want to think this particular trait of mine is a flaw, I will gladly assign the responsibility (blame) for my thriftiness and strong sense of independence to my parents. They, in turn, would say I am actually just cheap and stubborn, because honesty is another family characteristic.
Years of unreliable therapy from Reader’s Digest and Vogue magazines have taught me that I am cheap because my grandparents were raised during the Depression. They taught my parents to be careful (tightfisted) with their money, and my parents made me clean my plate even though we weren’t starving and grow a garden even though there were several great grocery stores just minutes away, among other things.
Letting a valet park my car is like paying someone else to brush my teeth or watch me sleep – unnecessary and extravagant.
It’s not like sewing curtains, something I have tried and been moderately successful at, but which, I freely admit, is not as easy as it looks. My curtains are nice, although not perfect, and I can live with that because they cost me a fraction of the price I would pay to have someone else make them. On the other hand, I don’t sew my own clothes – I tried and it did not go well – so I am resigned to paying someone else, such as Gap or Anthropologie, to sew them for me. We are all happier that way, and I look much better.
My own cooking is fine, but if I feel like eating French or Chinese food, I go to a restaurant. I make delicious tacos. My Beef Bourguignon and Moo Shu Chicken are not so good. Also, simple plumbing issues are completely under control, but I would never attempt to address any electrical situations on my own. I will not drown in my kitchen sink, but the wiggly outlet in the bathroom could kill me.
The point is, I do many things for myself that I could pay someone else to do. I’d rather keep my money. And if there is anything I can do for myself at no cost whatsoever, it’s park.
I can park while yelling at my kids, talking on the phone, creating a grocery list in my head, listening to the radio or birdwatching. My full attention is best and more acceptable to law enforcement officials and bleeding heart politicians, but only occasionally required when traffic is heavy or the parking spot is tiny.
I can park crooked, straight, parallel, diagonally, legally, illegally, near, far and any other old way you can dream up. I can park on grass, asphalt, concrete, dirt, rocks or hills, and in garages, carports, car parks and driveways. I’m an excellent parker.
My husband and I recently attended a function at the hospital where our children were born. The invitation said “free valet” and when we arrived, the valet repeated the offer. We would have liked to park our car ourselves, in part because it was filthy on the outside and a mess of carseats, toys, magazines and other things on the inside. It doesn’t matter how nicely you are dressed; the valet still knows you’re a disaster area, and that’s just plain embarrassing.
But there was no self-parking to be had – all taken by people visiting the hospital for more important reasons, so we gave the valet our car and its keys and went inside, where we enjoyed free food, a tour of the new wing, and good conversation with some old friends.
When the evening was over, we returned to the valet podium, and the nice young man brought us our car and we gave him a tip. And while he absolutely deserved a tip for the lickety-split service and sweet smile, that’s the instant when the cheap little elf on my shoulder said, “I thought it was free valet?”
I did have a terrific valet experience recently, which makes me think there might be reason to hope that I will move beyond my valet issues.
I drove with a friend to a very swank Los Angeles hotel for a promotional event involving free food and drink – my favorite. The valet parking also was free and also the only parking offered at any rate. Rain was coming down like bullets.
When we arrived, we pulled under the overhang and jumped out. But when we returned to the valet stand on our way home, a hundred other people also were trying to leave. Our car was brought around to the exit side of the driveway, which was not covered, rain still ricocheting off the pavement. That’s when a very adorable and chivalrous valet whipped out a giant silver lamé umbrella, gave me his arm to hold on to, and escorted me to the passenger side of the vehicle.
I was thoroughly impressed and smiled like a teenager at prom. He even closed my door for me. Sigh. It was a small price to pay to be treated like a VIP for just a few moments. I could learn to like it. My friend paid the tip.
Melissa Bean Sterzick is PT’s amateur parker and proofreader. She can be reached at

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Melissa Bean Sterzick
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