Valet parker knows it takes more than fleet feet to keep customers happy

Editor’s note: This is the first in an occasional series of stories looking at Las Vegas jobs through the people who perform them.

He has rubbed elbows with Kirk Kerkorian, charmed little old ladies and once thwarted a kidnapping.

Shorter people look up to him. And his sweat? It smells like … sweat.

He is Chris Sanglay: the Most Interesting Valet Parker at Boulder Station.

A solid 6 foot 2 inches tall, broad shoulders, dark hair and eyes, Sanglay, 40, holds one of the most coveted jobs in town, parking and retrieving guests’ vehicles. Locals have been said to forgo college in favor of a Las Vegas valet parking job and the untold riches it can bring — boxes of doughnuts, pizza, cash vouchers, wedding invitations. And the occasional $300 tip.

Sanglay started at Boulder Station when the casino’s doors opened in 1994. Like any job, his is unequal parts interesting, fun, rote and thrilling. During the New Year’s Eve shift, he and his co-workers yelled at a man who tried to take a child from a guest’s vehicle. The man ran away.

Sanglay’s job is anything but boring.

"When people think of valet, they think all you do is park cars, but there is more to it than that," Sanglay says.

Much more. In addition to parking the cars, one must drive them. Stop them. Turn them off. Each step can be fraught with danger. But Sanglay never loses his cool, not even when he’s behind the wheel of a runaway car.

"I stepped on the brakes but the car wouldn’t stop," Sanglay says of the one time a guest’s brakes failed on him. "I had to coast into the overflow lot and, as the car slowed, I put the emergency brake on and turned the ignition off."

All in a day’s work for the Most Interesting Valet Parker at Boulder Station.

Born and raised in the Philippines, Sanglay was 16 when his family moved to the United States in 1986, first to California and then Las Vegas a year later. His grandmother wanted him to be a doctor and save lives. Sanglay went to work as a food server at the Marina hotel. A food-serving stint at Palace Station brought him into the company. His valet friends brought him into their world.

"The money was better," he says.

How much better? A bit of Vegas lore claims that valet parkers make six figures. Not true, Sanglay says. At least not at locals casinos. He has been tipped with cookies, doughnuts, pizza. Once he received $300 from a guy who won big in the casino. In the mid-1990s, Kirk Kerkorian valeted his pickup truck and tipped $100. Those are rare occasions; the average tip is still $1, he says, and the average daily take is about $80 in tips. He didn’t want to give an annual salary.

"I wish we made six figures!" Sanglay says, laughing. "Maybe in the days before tip compliance but not now, not since we have to claim our tips as income."

In the beginning, his feet hurt and shins ached. The job is physically demanding, even though Boulder Station’s valet lot is close to the casino’s front doors. Attendants run a couple of miles during a shift, Sanglay says, but he’s used to it. It keeps him in shape.

From a guest’s perspective, the valet is a convenience, a faster way to get from point A, the car, to point B, the casino. Perhaps one barely notices them. From a company’s perspective, the valet attendant is a crucial cog in the customer service wheel. They are the first point of contact a guest has with the property and they’re the last.

"So when they lose money, it’s our fault," Sanglay jokes.

If a casino were casting the role for the perfect valet parker — solicitous, friendly, outgoing, tall — Sanglay would land the part.

During a recent Wednesday shift, a van pulls up in the valet lane. Sanglay greets the man by name and readies a ticket. Instead of taking the keys, though, he chuckles and waves as the van drives away. "He forgot his money. He’ll be back," Sanglay says.

Sanglay needs only a single meeting to learn a name and face, he says. To prove his point, he greets several guests by name as they pull into valet around dinnertime. He helps one woman from behind the wheel, unfolds her walker, places her paper cup in the walker’s cup holder and drapes the woman’s sweater across it. Then he takes her keys and sends her on her way.

A combination of his charm and the generosity of guests has earned him invitations to funerals, weddings and parties.

"Because we’re a locals casino, you get to know people and their lives over the years," he says.

Interacting with the public is undeniably his favorite part of the job. But driving cool cars is a nice perk, too. He was thrilled to once park a 1967 Eleanor Shelby GT 500 Mustang.

"Newer cars drive better, but they come with more technology than older models, which are easier to get in and out of and easier to operate," Sanglay says.

Each car has its own characteristics that often are known only to the owners. For instance, the handle may have to be jiggled to open the door. Some cars can’t be locked "or you might have to crawl through the hatch to open it," Sanglay says. Owners of compact cars often insist that the seat be left alone. That’s a challenge for the long-legged Sanglay; he lets a shorter valet attendant handle those cars.

If you can imagine something about a car, Sanglay has probably seen it. Dirty diapers in the car, marijuana cigarettes in the ashtray. A box of sex toys strewn across the back seat. Sanglay meets every vehicle, guest and request with the same response: a smile and a friendly word.

Once, instead of a key, a guy handed him a screwdriver, saying the car could only be started with it. Others have instructed him to disconnect the battery to turn off the car.

Cars like those cannot valet at Boulder Station. The screwdriver means the car might be stolen, Sanglay says, and any work under the hood can be a safety risk. Valet parkers are not mechanics. Nor are they law enforcement.

But they are problem-solvers, especially when it comes to car alarms. Breaking into a bank vault might be easier than finding the switch that disarms an alarm. Sanglay has had to flash the high beams, push in the cigarette lighter, depress the sunroof button, all before he can even start some cars.

Imagine the time that takes and then multiply it by 300, which is the average number of vehicles that go through valet during Sanglay’s weekday shift. On weekends, that number increases to 400 or 500. You learn to be fast, Sanglay says.

People have asked him why he never moved on to Strip valet work where the volume is higher and the money thought to be better. But Sanglay’s home is in the southeast valley and his shift — from 4 to 11 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays — enables him to take his son, 11, and daughter, 5, to school each morning. His job at Boulder Station gives him the freedom to play Mr. Mom, he says. And he enjoys it.

"By the time I divide tips with two to five other attendants during a shift, I’m probably making as much as someone on the Strip," Sanglay says. "Every day you have to look forward to going to work. And I do."

Interesting.

Contact reporter Sonya Padgett at spadgett@ reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4564.

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