Departments First Words — 01 February 2014
The Peaks & Valets of driving in South Florida

Some people have love stories, some people have war stories.

I have valet stories.

Like the time I was with my father, who was driving a rental when we pulled into a nice restaurant on the Intracoastal for brunch. My father, who grew up in the Midwest, does not believe in valet parking. I’m not sure why that is – perhaps it’s some deep, do-it-yourself pioneer survival instinct. Perhaps he just doesn’t like the idea of giving his car to a stranger. Even if that car is a $35 per day Sentra, even if it’s not technically his own.

All I know is that instead of slowing down at the valet stand in front of the nice restaurant on the Intracoastal, my father hit the gas when the valet reached for the driver-side door. And my father kept his foot on the gas, even as the valet in khaki shorts and white polo began to trot alongside, then run as he tried to retrieve his hand from the handle of the car now speeding away.

“Dad,” I said. “You know the valet is free here, right?’’

“I can park my own car,’’ my dad said, looking at the valet now in the rear-view mirror.

It was a long walk back to the restaurant.

“Is the valet looking at us?” my mom said, looking down at her feet.

“Oh, yes,” I said, sneaking a peek.

It was a long walk back to the car after brunch, too.

“Is the valet still looking at us?’’ my mom said, looking down at her feet again.

“More like glaring,” I said, sneaking another look. “But yes.’’

“I will park my own car,’’ my dad said.

The impulse to drive away from strangers attempting to take away our transportation may have served our forebears well on the Great Plains. (Think horses, horse thieves). But in South Florida, the valet is an institution.

We often get our first impression about a place from the valet, good or bad. That’s why I’ve never returned to a well known hotel in Miami, where the valet – first words out of his mouth, I swear I’m not making this up – were “we’re going to take an inventory of the dings and scratches on your car” so they wouldn’t be accountable for any of them when I picked it up.

Well, hello to you, too. And goodbye.

Stand out with the fine valets at The Breakers on Palm Beach or the Boca Raton Resort & Club or the Harbor Beach Marriott Resort & Spa in Fort Lauderdale, though, and you begin to see that there is an art to valet parking – frequently, entertainment value as well. (And usually not because a visitor from the Midwest is trying to shake someone off the rental).

Sometimes a celebrity will pull up to a valet stand here, and everybody buzzes. Sometimes someone who thinks he’s a celebrity will pull up, and everybody groans at his self importance. (You know who you are). Sometimes, a really great car will pull up, and we all start daydreaming about what it must be like to be behind that wheel.

Sometimes these experiences intersect, as they will this month at the annual Boca Raton Concours d’Elegance . Pull up to the Boca Raton Resort & Club for the gala benefit on Feb. 22, and you may see comedian Wayne Brady, the featured entertainer for the evening; or noted auto artist Timothy Raines, whose work is part of the auction benefiting the Boys & Girls Clubs of Broward County . You may see a 1956 Mercedes-Benz 190 – which, in our humble estimation, is one of the six sexiest cars of all time  – in the concours competition at the resort the following day.

I hope to see you there, and we can trade valet stories. But, wherever you’re going, whatever you’re driving, my advice is to always pull up like you own the place, turn the keys over to the valet – and enjoy. The valet is a South Florida institution, and money well spent for a little fun.

And, otherwise, it’s a long way to walk, looking down at your feet.

Mark Gauert


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