I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Americans are obsessed with their cars. Having recently flown cross-country to Los Angeles, it’s not hard to see why. Popping next door for a cup of sugar must be a whole different kettle of fish when your closest neighbo
ur lives thirty miles away. Of course, abject fear of walking doesn’t help either. After all, most LA residents think that legs were made for making sure that your torso doesn’t drag on the floor.
When you admit in public that you haven’t driven for fourteen years, you get the kind of look reserved for hired cat assassins. And that’s just from The Special One, I can tell you. People who don’t know me attempt to get words out of their mouths but eventually just give up and
The problem is that I was never the world’s greatest driver in the first place. As I’ve said before, I spectacularly failed my driving test first time out. What I neglected to mention was that even the second time I took it, I was lucky to get away with a pass. After all, a three foot skid on your emergency stop is never designed to impress the examiners.
Anyway, I’ve come to terms with being a social leper now. And to be fair, New York is probably the one city in the States where you can definitely get away without a car. It’s clearly disappointing that I’m excluded from the merry-go-round fun when everybody has to move their cars at certain points in the week to allow the roads to be cleaned (and to avoid getting fined in the process). But it’s a disappointment I’m prepared to endure for the sake of my own sanity, and for the security of drivers and pedestrians across the city.
Outside New York, dealing with drivers is a vital task for businesses that rely on a high turnover of customers, but which don’t have access to huge on-site
car parksparking lots. In high traffic areas, certain places know that their patrons won’t bother turning up if they find it impossible to park. So they make the problem disappear by offering to park the car for them – for a small fee, of course.
Valet parking is an essential part of restaurant life, and most swanky hotels offer the service too. In Los Angeles, it seems that every second place offers you the chance to put your keys into the hands of somebody you’ve never met and watch them drive off with your pride and joy. In New York they call that process a mugging.
That said, the further away from Manhattan you get, the more likely you are to find valet parking an option. Here in Bay Ridge, plenty of restaurants will happily park your car for you, and I’ve even seen the option at babywear shops.
It’s all about competitive advantage I guess. And maybe with the current recession, we’ll see even more businesses begin to offer to park your car, if only to make their service stand out from the crowd. Infact, I think that process has already begun. Last night on my walk home, I saw a man step out of his car and hand his keys over to a smartly dressed young man who immediately took his place and drove the car around the corner to join another thirty or so crammed into a small space at the side of the premises. But what was the place, I wondered as I looked for a sign? A new restaurant, or a bed and breakfast inn maybe?
No, it was the local funeral parlo
ur, welcoming friends and family to a viewing.
Next it’ll be drive-thru weddings, mark my words.