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Confessions of a Car Thief

Confessions of a Car Thief



Many decades ago I was employed as a car parking valet at a fancy pants restaurant in Tacoma. I’m not going to name the eatery since they, being a place I still can’t afford to frequent, likely have good legal counsel and may sue the pants off of me, fancy or not, if they deem this story to be unflattering to their establishment.

At 18 years of age I was trying to gather enough cash to continue my education and was provided an opportunity to drive cars that I couldn’t afford to own and eat food that I couldn’t afford to buy. I could not believe my good fortune at getting a job that provided both! My wage was simple; keep the tips received from the patrons and order anything from the menu. It’s likely that this short tenure as a valet resulted in a severe shortage of beef cattle in the State of Washington. No paycheck was provided but it seemed like a fair deal to me.

So here’s the routine; you drive up in your car, I open the door for you and your companion, you hand over the keys and enter the restaurant trying to convince yourself that your chariot has been left in good hands. So far so good, unless you’ve arrived in anything with a convertible top, or no back seat, or a fiberglass body, or made in Europe, or having a high performance V8, or anything that flipped my switch. Perhaps more appropriate to the era, anything that I considered groovy or boss. Your car was safe if it was a boring family car that resembled anything that my aunt Millie would drive. But remember, this place was the town’s finest eatery and she could not afford to dine there. The majority of the clientele drove very desirable cars, not conservative family cars like Aunt Millie’s Rambler.

So you’ve made the mistake of turning your car over to me. Now what? That depends on the car. The usual routine was to park the car in the lot at the front of the restaurant and wait for the next arrival. This was done with the least exciting cars but the next level up, such as a new Cadillac or Lincoln, were driven across the street to a different parking lot. This gave me a chance to add about a tenth of a mile to the odometer and also experience the acceleration and cornering ability of the vehicle. This did no real harm to the diner’s car, yet provided this happy valet with a taste of upscale car ownership.

Now for the bad news; beware all owners of Mustangs, Corvettes and all British luxury or sports cars, especially Jaguar XKE’s. Your car was guaranteed to end up in the parking lot across the street by way of a very scenic route. The restaurant was located in a remote area that provided a tree lined, winding access road to the front door. Off the diner’s car sped for the half mile trip away from the parking lot to then test the car’s ability to withstand the theory of G force as it was turned around for the rapid return trip. Back it flew, then slowed down and, as discretely as possible, was parked. I suppose that technically I was a car thief, albeit for a short time. Thankfully this perpetrator was never “caught in the act” and asked to explain the indirect parking lot route.

It was part of the job to remember which car belonged to which patron, so upon spotting the car owner leaving the establishment, the car would be waiting in the front driveway with the doors open and this smiling valet handing the keys to the owner with one hand and waiting for a tip with the other hand.

My career as an occasional joyriding valet ended with the end of the summer and the start of school. The night that I let a car roll down the driveway and hit two other parked cars may have also been a factor in my short period of employment.

Enjoy your dinning experience tonight. Don’t forget to tip the valet.