Park and Pay
This is not a valet town. Folks will valet their cars if it’s free and some restaurants offer the service, especially in neighborhoods like Little Italy and Fells Point where spots are at a premium. M&W Parking, the main valet company in Little Italy, contracts with six High Street restaurants, charging diners $7 a pop to park their cars. Some patrons complain, but people visiting from New York, where $7 will reserve a parking space for about a minute, and other cities where valet parking is common think it’s a bargain.
M&W’s valets are mostly college students. Harold McClelland, who started M&W back in 1992, places all of his help-wanted ads in The Towerlight, Towson University’s student newspaper. McClelland has evolved over the years into something of a Little Italy character. He’s excitable and still not resigned to taking it from all sides—impatient clients, angry restaurateurs, and smart-aleck employees.
On a bitter cold Saturday night, when McClelland is short-staffed (recently, new hires have been quitting before they work their first shift), things run smoothly. The restaurants are bursting on Super Bowl eve with diners, who are preparing for the next day’s lockdown. At 6:30 p.m. or so, there are a few tense moments, when it looks as though the lots M&W uses are running out of room. If that happens, the whole operation has to temporarily shut down. (It will cease, too, if High Street backs up with cars and someone calls the police to come clear it up.)
But mostly the night runs smooth. The valets are polite and speedy, running to and from the lot. Being in good shape is important in this business, explains M&W valet Brandon While. “You don’t see too many overweight valets,” he says. “If you do, they don’t last for long.” And mishaps are unheard of—there’s the occasional trash-can-on-wheels, and once a customer claimed that someone had taken his weed. “People have this idea that we want to hot-rod around in their cars,” While says. “But we just want to make money. That’s the reason we’re here.”
And making money depends on tips. The general rule about tipping is that guys in pickup trucks tip well, pharmaceutical reps are notorious cheapskates, and dickwads in $80,000 cars will give 50 cents and complain about it. “There’s this big developer, a total dick, who comes in every Monday and Tuesday night and parks his car in the loading zone and walks right by all of us without any acknowledgement,” valet Shawn McDonald says. Another valet explains that if someone tells the man his car might be ticketed, he blows them off saying, “I can afford a ticket every minute.” A sentiment that really makes $7 sound like a bargain.Guide to Downtown Restaurants
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