Illuminated Musings

I have strange notions about the origins of things. I was watching “Everything is Illuminated,” it’s a movie about a young Jewish American who travels to Ukraine to seek out his grandfather’s village and the woman who saved his family, when Jonathan (the protagonist) made reference to valets.It suddenly became clear to me exactly how valet must have happened, and the bourgeoise upper-middle class status it’s designed to signify. The question posed by the Ukrainian to Jonathan was “why would you not park your own car?” The answer is three-fold.

First, know this: truly wealthy people do not drive themselves except for sport. There may be several roadsters in the garage that are used for weekend excursions, or the sheer pleasure of driving an exquisitely designed machine, but if a truly wealthy person must travel, someone else will be driving. Above all else, the wealthy value time, and operating the controls of a vehicle to get from one place to another is an abominable waste of time. Having a driver also means that the wealthy person in question can have a relatively uninterrupted work day. If I am wealthy, I leave my house with a briefcase and a newspaper under my arm, read the news and my pertinent documents in the car on the way, and am then dropped off promptly at the front door of the business or restaurant I am visiting. These transitions are seamless, thanks to the driver, and this seamlessness is what the valet service attempts to replicate.

Second, parking space grew to be the automobile’s greatest foe. Take a wonderfully liberating experience like driving and finish it with a frustrating game of “find the needle in the haystack.” If I’m a businessman, attending a business lunch, then my level of stress and comfort will make a huge impact on the way I conduct myself. If I’m stressed because searching for a parking space took me eight extra minutes and I was almost late for the meal, I’ll probably blow the deal I’ve spent months preparing. Valet service lets you pretend, for a moment, that you are wealthy and have a driver. Sure, you may have driven your own car (a thing wealthy people never, ever do, and you ought to remember that,) but the headache of hunting and fighting for a parking space is alleviated, and you can stroll, carefree, from your vehicle right to the front of the restaurant. The upper-middle class emulates the upper class, but is left wanting, as they still have to drive home at the end of the day and risk being ticketed for driving while intoxicated.

Lastly, there is no greater perceived threat to the upper-middle class than the upper-lower class. When you are wealthy, your driver carries a gun (see Pretty Woman.) It will be a rare occasion that someone has the opportunity to assault you, and if they do, you have someone else to shoot for you. You can continue on with your day, relatively uninterrupted. If, however, you are only upper-middle class and have to park for yourself, you start to feel threatened by all of the vagrants that stand between your parking spot and your destination, vagrants (you think to yourself) who want nothing more than to take your hard-earned money and expensive possessions. Valet service offers a sense of security, allowing you to move swiftly and easily from the safety of your vehicle to the comfort of your destination. Myself, I am middle-middle class. I drive myself, park my own vehicle, and give money to the people who ask it of me on the walk from my car.

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