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Marylouise Oates

The Cadillac of the Car-Park Trade

November 01, 1986|Marylouise Oates

"This can't be much of a party," one cynic said as she entered the $2-million-plus Beverly Hills home where last month a handful of very important politicians met with some very substantial checkbooks. "I've just walked a block from my car. There was no valet."

Walking is never done in Los Angeles, especially in expensive environs. One does not walk. One is parked.

The Beatles might have had it right in 1965 when they sang, "Baby, you can drive my car. Yes, I'm gonna be a star . . . "

In fact, it is probably this city's preoccupation with celebrity that created valet parking, which awards every partygoer that particular right of stardom--the entrance.

There is the public arrival--at a restaurant or charity event, where one emerges, butterfly-like, from the Mercedes or BMW cocoon. But such public arrivals are only icing on the cake. It is at private parties where valet is crucial. If the hostess forgets her dress, that's one thing--but no valet, and it is the guests themselves who feel naked.

If anybody's dressed up the field of valet, it's Chuck Pick, the acknowledged prince of L.A. car parkers.

Chuck--as everybody knows him--started parking cars at Romanoff's when he was a Hamilton High student in the late 1950s. All tips were turned over to the doorman, as they were at Chasen's, where he later worked. There, if somebody "stiffed" the parker, Chuck recalls, the valet would clap his hands over his head, proving to the doorman that he didn't "palm" any money. There was even one concessionaire who gave uniforms to his attendants that had a special feature--no pockets.

Telling this story, talking about L.A., Chuck proves himself to be more interesting than most of the people he parks. He hung out with the Rat Pack--Sinatra, Lawford, et al. He drove the then Sen. Jack Kennedy, along with brother Bob, downtown the night of the future President's nomination at the Democratic convention. And Chuck is now on a first-name, kissy-face basis with the Kitchen Cabinet. But, like any of the other "tradespeople" who make their money from the rich and famous, Chuck tells stories about himself--not his clientele.

The real secret to parking success, Chuck insists, is figuring out how many people mean how many cars mean how many parkers. The one no-no is to let important people stand waiting for their cars--or worse, people who think they are important. Figure that at a night-time event, it's mostly couples. So half as many cars as guests. But at a luncheon, "for 25 ladies, you get 24 cars," Chuck explains. Every event has its own peculiarities. "At a wedding, everybody arrives at the same time."

Parkers at special events get paid about $5 an hour--plus, in some cases, the tips. For years, the tip was always $1. One veteran parker complained: "They're still tipping a dollar, but now they try to hide it."

Chuck says he employs men and women--but when the all-girl parker phase hit a couple years ago, he merely said, "Cute. You want cute? Buy a puppy."

This is, after all, big business. Parking is how the evening starts off--and how it ends.

"This is no dress rehearsal," Chuck explains. "Somebody is spending $50,000 on a party, but they aren't going to do it again tomorrow if we don't get it right tonight."

UPLIFTING--If we believe the polls, the balloon might have popped on Mayor Tom Bradley's future political aspirations. But Deputy Mayor Tom Houston plans an upper-level finish to the campaign. He'll wed Susan Adams in a hot-air balloon over Kenya on Nov. 14. Honestly, folks . . .

UPCOMING--Steven Spielberg gets the Scopus Award on Dec. 14 when he's honored by Hebrew University at the Century Plaza . . . Dan Aykroyd and his actress-wife Donna Dixon host a "wild" champagne and pasta party Wednesday at Primi to honor Renee Taylor and her new book, "My Life on a Diet, Confessions of a Hollywood Junkie." . . .

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