“Here you go, have a good one.”
He won’t say much more before running to someone who’s been waiting for him and then back to the garage — mostly because he’s extremely out of breath. A few moments later, someone comes out of a booth after him, gets in your car, and it’s gone.
You don’t know who he is or where he’s taking it. You think of everything that you left inside, what he could go through if he so pleased. You can get it back, though — for a price.
No, this isn’t a scam or a carjacking. This is valet.
BMW 6 Series, Tesla Model S, Maserati Quattroporte, Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari, Bentley, Rolls-Royce, McLaren, Bugatti. Stick shift, automatic, electric cars or cars that are 60 years old.
He makes less than a school teacher and he’s driven them all — and you let him.
“We’re like the ghosts of the city,” says Alex, a former valet of a major resort on the Las Vegas Strip. “We’re always only briefly acknowledged, but I don’t think anyone thinks about what happens to their car after they hand us the keys.”
Alex still works at a major hotel-casino and preferred to not have his last name nor former workplace published.
The most expensive car he ever drove on the job was a 2011 Bugatti Veyron, valued at over $2.5 million.
Surrounded by money, but is he getting any of it? Salary.com rates the national salary of a valet or parking attendant between $18,000 – $29,000 per year. Some say it’s less, some say it’s up to $70,000 before tips. It comes down to which casino they work at and when.
Keep in mind, this is a tipping city. “Most locals will go two or three dollars, tourists will tip five because that’s what blogs tell them to,” said Alex, “It’s not uncommon for me to get tips in the hundreds range, though. It’s Las Vegas – we’re a city of high rollers.”
Jordan Jackson, who was a valet at the Trump Towers three years ago, said he would average around $150 per night in tips. Some nights would be in the $300 – $500 range.
Jackson’s “day” of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. took over some other responsibilities: “Because concierge was closed, we generally offered advice on where to eat and drink. I was asked every single night about drugs and escorts, as well.”
According to past valets, getting to be one is like most jobs on the Strip – it really comes down to who you know. There’s an exclusivity to jobs on the Strip that is separate from other businesses that dominates the Las Vegas Valley.
It depends on which property you’re at, but a bigger tip can equal better protection. Many tips accompany the phrase “keep her up top,” or “keep an eye on it,” which gets your car in a not-really-full full lot.
That also depends on the model and the night of the week as well. The Palms Hotel and Casino is said to keep the nicest cars at the top so that guests can witness their comings and goings, but an S Class wouldn’t make the cut for the top there on a Friday night.
It’s not always a thrill, parking the world’s priciest rides, however. Valets will get old cars, cars with mountains of rotting food in the back seat, cars with things so odd and unconventional that they can’t help but explore.
“I never thought so many people kept sex toys in their cars until I got into this,” says a former valet of the New York-New York, who preferred to be identified as “Jack.” “There’s a lot of discarded drugs, too.” We all want to know: does he just ignore it? “Maybe I had a little fun when I started doing this out of state.”
Among items found in cars, he rattled off: sex toys, one unwrapped whole bread loaf, guns ranging from pistols to shotguns, second cell phones and even a live dog. “She told me to keep an eye on ‘Prince’ for her. I let security take over that one.”
“An AMC Gremlin with a completely pink fuzz interior,” was the worst car Jackson was in. He says he never snooped about but people left a variety of things in their cars, “a positive pregnancy test in a working girl’s Range Rover — in the cup holder, a rolled joint on the dash, naked pictures of the guest near the odometer, cut handcuff on the steering wheel.”
When it comes down to it, being a valet is very routine, and those were not common instances. However, there is the part you worry about: irresponsible or inexperienced valet attendants.
Alex, who was a valet for three years, said the company he was employed by would hire young men who didn’t even have their own car. Some valets will speed with the cars, or drive the car around the garage a little longer than necessary, but “most are confident in their driving skills as to not damage the car.”
“We usually only ever heard stories and rumors of people who joyride with folks’ cars. When it comes down to it, we liked our jobs and weren’t trying to get fired,” said Jack, “There was one time a few years back that a buddy of a buddy of ours at (another casino) got fired for it though. He took a Maserati in the last hour of his shift and came back a day later with no job, an empty tank and a big ass grin on his face. But, you know, only rumors.”
Both Alex and the former New York-New York valet say that overall, valets can be trusted. “Think of your car like your meal at a restaurant. You may not like the kitchen conversation, but we’re not going to spit in your food,” said Jack.
“The most common issues were guests themselves going too fast in the drive or not paying attention. Being a valet-only hotel, people would try and park their cars themselves which led to most accidents,” said Jackson, “A valet was run over after I’d left from what I heard.” Jackson said neither he nor his coworkers would engage in anything illegal on the job.
That’s the bottom line. It’s a job not unlike many others and the valet attendants take it seriously. And like all service jobs, the valets say most are just hardworking men and women making an honest living on a hectic schedule. At the end of the day, they’ll be so exhausted from running around that they won’t even remember most of the cars.
Contact Kristen DeSilva at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @kristendesilva