Sunday, February 19, 2012

"Welcome to the Biltmore. Are You Checking In?"

That is not my favorite greeting, because it means the valet doesn’t recognize me. My response is always: “I’m the hotel doctor. I’ll be here twenty minutes. They hold my car.”

That’s my mantra to parking attendants, delivered a thousand times and followed by a moment of tension. Will he smile, accept my key, and park my car nearby? Or will he hand over a voucher, jump behind the wheel, and drive off into the bowels of the parking structure?

I have no problem tipping attendants, but I hate paying ten to twenty dollars to park. Accepting the voucher makes that a possibility, so I repeat the mantra, hoping he will reconsider or appeal to his boss who might know me or decide an elderly doctor with his bag deserves VIP status.

Once I accept, my next step, after caring for a guest, is to ask the desk clerk or concierge to validate. Sometimes they comply, but now and then…

“Sorry. The hotel doesn’t handle parking. It’s a separate company.” Hotels often outsource parking, but luxury hotels always accommodate me. Chains are unpredictable, even those where I go regularly. But once I hear this, I pay because I have a rule against arguing with hotel staff. Validation sometimes requires only that the employee scribble “comp – hotel doctor” on the voucher. Once, when refused, I scribbled it myself, and it worked, but I don’t do it. The chance of getting caught is very low, but the consequences are so humiliating that it’s not worth the risk.

After thirty years, I know the nearest street parking for every hotel; if it isn’t hot or raining, I’m willing to walk a few blocks. Downtown is a problem because, even during wee hours, homeless men hurry up, offering to watch my car. In the immense wasteland near the airport and hip entertainment sections of the Sunset Strip and Hollywood, street parking is often impossible. As with so many amenities, Beverly Hills is a pleasant exception.

I loved the temporary handicapped pass I used for six months after breaking my leg in 2003. Its benefits are no secret to the able-bodied; it turns out that eleven percent of Los Angeles drivers have one including not a few running the treadmills at my gym.

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