Commentary 19 Jul 2012 11:56 am
I blame it on seeing “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” at an impressionable age.
The scene where two parking garage attendants sail Bueller’s cherry red Ferrari GT California up and over railroad tracks, punctuated by the “Star Wars” theme thundering in the background, left an indelible mark. I have never trusted parking attendants since, and I am especially irritable at the thought of tipping them.
Tipping, in general, is a custom I don’t understand. I understand that gratuities in a restaurant bridge the gap between what the business pays a server and a living wage. I don’t blame the server, nor do I necessarily blame the restaurant, but I do blame the restaurant industry as a whole for a system that entices customers with low-priced specials and then shakes them down on the check.
But I have options when it comes to eating. I can choose to dine at a fast-food restaurant where tipping is not expected, or I can elect to stay home and prepare my own food. Nobody holds a T-bone to my head and forces me into a restaurant.
I could also choose not to leave a tip, but that way is fraught with peril, including the prospect of wearing a glass of water on my next visit or eating, unbeknownst to me, a thin thread of saliva garnishing the butter on my baked potato. So I always tip.
However, I don’t have many choices when it comes to parking, especially at hotels in big cities, where the only feasible option is often the hotel’s own facility, monitored by bow tie-wearing employees who hover around the entrance like fashionably dressed hobos, sucking cigarettes and waiting for the next easy mark.
My wife knows the drill because I repeat it every time we travel. We pull to the curb and the penguins start to flock. I whisper to my wife, “Don’t let them help us with the luggage. I can get it myself. Remember, no luggage.”
By then the attendants have opened the doors and pasted on their best come-on smiles. But soon they notice I’ve turned off the car and put the key safely in my pocket, and the smiles falter just a bit. One of THOSE, they’re thinking.
I inquire about available public parking, even though I already know the answer, found on Page 57 of “Parking Attendant Careers for Dummies”: “Tell the mark that the nearest public parking is at least eight blocks away, that it charges exorbitant prices and is only open from 9 to 5 daily with no in-and-out privileges. Say that the public parking lot floods three times a week and that cars are routinely washed away. Mention that last month alone, 37 cars there were broken into, glove boxes pillaged, and gas tanks filled with sugar.”
Truthfully, most of my tipping angst with hotel valets comes from a lack of knowledge. I don’t know if I’m supposed to tip when the valet drives off in the car or when I ask him to retrieve it for me. I don’t know how much is appropriate. And I especially don’t know why I should be obligated to reach for my wallet when my arm is already being twisted.
Miss Manners, that usually reliable arbiter of taste and refinement, is no help. She says to tip a buck for valet restaurant parking but that no tip is necessary at a commercial parking garage “if you were planning to have body work done on your car anyway,” which I guess is a joke, but who can really tell?
Because of all this pressure, any interaction between a valet and me is tense. In my mind, the cityscape with its honking cars and hissing bus brakes melts away, and I’m standing in the middle of an Old West town, all tumbleweeds and swinging saloon doors, squinting into the sun on a cloudless day. I’m wrapped in a serape. The valet is dressed the same. Somewhere, somebody plays the theme to “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” as my hand hovers over my holster, which contains not a gun but a wallet. If I draw, I lose.
My opponent and I lock eyes. In his steely gaze I see society’s expectations — tip! tip! tip! In mine, he sees the mantra of the tightwad — no! no! no! My hand shakes, I falter. I look away, my embarrassment and shame almost getting the better of me, but then my true nature, the part of me that hates having this service thrust upon me, unwanted, unasked for, asserts itself.
I sigh and hand over my keys to my vintage 2002 Dodge Neon — it’s so choice as Ferris might say — but I insist on taking my own luggage. It’s a matter of pride, mostly, but also a way for me to feel less like a bum when I stiff him.
Because a valet can coerce his way into my car, but he will never pry open my wallet.
cschillig at Twitter
Originally published July 19, 2012, in The Alliance Review.