Baby, You Can Park My Car

Can you really call yourself a ‘local’ if you don’t valet on the Strip?

A peculiar behavior of Southern Nevada residents is that they love to draw lines in the sand—more like cinder-block walls in the sand, actually—delineating strong differences in attitudes among us. Call it a first line of defense in a city where it can be hard to get your bearings. There is the “east of Strip” vs. “west of Strip” wall, the suburbs vs. downtown wall, the smoking vs. non-smoking wall, the Vegas haters vs. Vegas defenders wall, and my personal favorite, the Sin City vs. “low-tax, family-friendly, how did all those casinos end up in my Summerlin backyard?” wall.

But there is another I recently discovered while listening to KNPR’s State of Nevada that I hardly expected: locals who valet vs. those who don’t. In my mind, all locals valet. Such convenience is, essentially, an assumed birthright of Las Vegans. We get to park for free, and for a few bucks more, we get to park at the door. But in KNPR’s discussion about the then-just-opened CityCenter, Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Howard Stutz claimed essentially the opposite.

Because CityCenter was designed as an urban environment in which valet parking is the norm, there is only one small (yet nice) parking garage on property, near the Mandarin Oriental. According to Stutz, this deliberate dearth of garages supposedly stymies the “accessibility” that locals demand. He went as far as to say that “locals will learn that the best way to get in [to CityCenter], if you don’t want to valet, … is to park over at Bellagio and to walk over using the connection from Vdara, or take the tram from Monte Carlo.” Um, say what? I’m going to leave my car at another property and then schlep to CityCenter, all for the “convenience” of self-parking in a garage? I don’t think so. Neither does Las Vegas resident Suzie Q, who, in her review of Aria, responds to the parking complaints of other reviewers by stating what I believed was obvious: “Vegas taboo … Who parks in the parking garage???”

So, who are these so-called locals who don’t valet? To explore the answer, I did what any 21st-century person would do—I updated my Facebook status to reflect my frustration: “James P. Reza is listening to KNPR’s discussion about CityCenter and wonders when ‘locals don’t valet park’ became the rule.” Within the next few hours, there were 51 comments, one of the most pointed of which was from native Stacey, who said, “These ‘locals,’ whoever they are, decide that they reject our city, and at the same time bad-mouth us ‘real locals.’ I love to valet park! If these ‘locals’ don’t like it, then leave … Please.” Ginger, another native, softened that somewhat by explaining, “Those of us who are born and bred are different from imported ‘locals.’” That’s especially true for native-born locals old enough to recall the Las Vegas that existed pre-Mirage, a different town to be certain. But commenter Jeff was unmoved. “ALL THIS OVER VALET PARKING?” he typed. “I never knew this was such a hot-button issue dividing the locals. Consider me apathetic.” The rest of them weren’t.

Additional comments ranged from people who don’t valet because they don’t consider their car “fancy enough” (to which native-born artist Jerry countered, “I used to love valeting my old banana-yellow 1970 Plymouth Fury III … huge piece of shit”), to those who consider their valet parking “situational,” useful for times when one is dressed fancy or in a hurry. Still, not always is valet parking the quicker option; Luxor’s valet is hard to find and sometimes understaffed, and as Vegas native Anne pointed out, the MGM Grand “has THE WORST valet parking on the Strip. And I’ve taken Planet Hollywood into consideration here.” Yes, MGM Mirage is the company behind CityCenter.

For me, there is never a question. Valet is an ingrained part of the Las Vegas experience. I’ve always valeted, and my mom—who has been in Las Vegas since the early 1960s—faithfully valets her decidedly old-school 1985 380sl whenever she ventures out to “play the nickels.” Most of the young women I know valet as a matter of course; despite security efforts, parking garages can be intimidating places for women, and besides, every yard counts when strutting in stilettos. As someone accustomed to paying $10–$30 every time I swing my car into downtown San Diego, a few bucks is worth the convenience, the sense of safety, and, yes, the feeling of being on vacation at home, a cheap daily thrill that not enough “new” Las Vegans—the ones who “never go to the Strip”—understand or appreciate.

But back on Facebook, former valet driver Michael has a different perspective: “Having valet-parked cars before, and having seen what goes on, I wouldn’t recommend it. It also handicaps people into thinking that a city block is too far to walk.” Yes, we Las Vegans exhibit a unique blend of spoiled egalitarianism when it comes to our lifestyle; it might be fair to say we’ll walk an extra block just to valet, but only if that block is inside a Roman-themed shopping mall. Recent transplant Lynn, a professor at UNLV, probably has the most diplomatic perspective: “Sometimes I valet, sometimes I don’t, and I love Vegas regardless of how I park.” That’s something I would walk a mile to hear.

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