“Welcome,” I said with a smile, as I opened the glass door for yet another guest who would only leave enough money for each valet to receive less than a dollar in tips. I hated this job. We wore black polo shirts that were called “upgrades” from the tan button-up shirts I used to like. The shirt had some fancy logo for a company that paid just enough for me to still stress about how to pay my rent most nights. It went really well with our black pants and black shoes that we had to purchase with our own money. I hated my life.
Here I was, a Black man who double-majored for his Liberal Arts degree, parking cars. What was once a fantastic job to get me through college had dissolved into life disrespecting me. I knew I was more capable than the position I was working, yet people less capable were occupying the positions above me, and I didn’t have enough simpleton in me to suck up to the superiors.
It’s not like I wasn’t trying to get another job. It just wasn’t my turn to get hired yet. I couldn’t even count the number of applications I submitted. I had a list of applications at home that was well over three pages with three columns per page. I felt worthless.
Life drew me back into my misery when the other valet was called to the window to go and retrieve a car. It was a rotation. Two valets stood by the two double doors with a rotating door in-between them by the entrance. They didn’t let us stand with one valet per door because we would have too much fun talking to each other, and would thus become too loud and too distracted. And so, it was one valet driver for two doors on both sides of the rotating doors.
I walked quietly from one set of double doors, across the rotating door, to the other set of double doors. I placed my back against the marble wall of the entrance and leaned back. They didn’t like us leaning on the wall by the doors because it made us look lazy, but I wasn’t lazy, so I didn’t care. In fact, I was considered one of the hardest and most intelligent workers.
I was said to have two speeds. If business was booming, I was outrunning men over fifty pounds lighter than me. If business was slow, like tonight, I was moving as if in slow motion. I was already walking back from the garage when I was supposed to run. Why run for $20 in tips for 8 hours of work? They didn’t realize that I hated slow nights because slow nights meant less money. If I wasn’t making enough money to live, what was I doing working for those cheapskates?
I leaned against the wall and kept a hand on the door to lift me in case someone whose judgment was cherished walked by. My eyes shifted from the inside, where the luxurious, Christmas-themed chocolate statues gave the lobby a most repugnant smell, to the outside, where a driveway capable of parking over forty cars laid empty.
I looked at the line of valet drivers on the other side of the driveway and sighed. All of the drivers were younger than I. The only ones who were older had lived lives worth praising God for. I hated being one of the older drivers. I used to mock the older drivers for being stuck at a low-paying job. Yet, here I was, being stuck as well. I hated it.
By now, our numbers had dwindled from 12 drivers to 7. I wanted to send more home, but then there’d be no one to stand by the doors to open the doors for guest and they hate that. They hotel wanted a specific image, and it required more people to do it. After all, it was a convention center hotel. Still, all we cared about was making money. And no matter how hard you hustled, you weren’t surpassing $40 in tips tonight. You’d be lucky to make $30.
On instinct, my arm yanked me up from the wall. I stood with my arms behind my back, just how they hoped they’d find me standing. My manager for tonight walked outside from the lobby. The door opened and that chemical which kept the chocolate from melting entered my nose. Disgusting.
He hurried past me with his slim frame and oversized suit. We didn’t talk much. As much as you didn’t want to believe it, it felt like he served as the translating manager for the rest of the workers. It was always funny watching the rest of the African workers straighten up when he approached. It would only last for ten seconds before they started speaking Amharic and relaxed their posture and language. I didn’t know what they said, but it always seemed buddy-buddy. It was a connection I could never outdo. They were African, mostly Ethiopian.
This manager was a nice guy in most situations. He only dared to cross me once. I don’t even remember what it was. That’s how trivial the matter was. This job had tried to turn him into a stiff-necked leader, and he tried me, but I didn’t care enough about the job to deem being sent home a threat, so I called his bluff. We talked about it months later and cleared up the miscommunication, but we also learned never to cross each other. It sullied us becoming friends.
Now our interactions were cordial, just as he was when he asked me how things were going. I gave him the regular comment I gave just about every time during that season, “We’re good. It’s boring.” Then, he’d go speak Amharic with his African, or Ethiopian, coworkers for a few more minutes and go back inside to hopefully do something worthy of the salary he had obtained.
A car pulled up while they were talking. As a leader, the manager stood at attention first, and approached the car first. He prided himself on setting a good example. Guest would be impressed by this slender, suited, and bald African man with a routine welcoming statement as crisp as the shoulders of his jacket.
He opened the door and made way for the valet supervisor to give them an explanation to the valet. Then, another valet, the one in rotation behind me, grabbed a bell cart and attended to the guest. We were always looking for different ways to make added money, even if it was just an extra $2. It was how we were taught to beg… professionally.
After the routine, the guest was being led by the valet in rotation behind me. Instead of waiting for someone to call for their vehicle from a room, which is the job of the valet closest to the window, where I stood, I jumped the line to go park the car. Typically, those standing on the driveway go park the incoming cars. But I knew the likelihood of someone calling for their car at this point of the night was unlikely, and I was bored, so I switched. I hated standing by the door anyway, and the lazier valets never had a problem with me doing it. I just needed to get away.
I hopped in the car and took off down the road. It normally took two to three minutes to get to a parking spot. It wasn’t a long trip without traffic. All I had to do was make two rights and a quick left, and there was the garage, connected to the hotel. I, however, took five minutes.
Soon as I parked the car, I sat still. I began to think about my place in life, and the places of other people I had come to know. I didn’t understand why others had higher paying jobs. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t get a chance. I wanted to blame my age, my race, my degree, the devil, or my lack of experience. It just didn’t make sense for me to still be valeting.
I sighed, feeling the clock against my absence counting too high. I sighed and exited the vehicle. I walked at a creeping pace. If I could be gone for ten minutes without complaint, that’d be great. However, I knew after about seven minutes, I’d get the stares silently asking, “Where did you go?” I walked up to a railing and leaned onto it. I looked down from the garage at the people walking below. I felt trapped.
Suddenly, the tires of a car grinded against the concrete on my floor. Another valet was pulling in to park a car. My thoughts were interrupted. I had to return to work.
I took the elevator back down. I couldn’t wait for him. It was a bad look for another valet to come back before you. That was the mark of a lazy, or sneaky, person. I left him behind and walked back to the hotel entrance.
I crossed the street and walked around the outside of the hotel. They didn’t like us cutting through the lobby. We ruined the ambiance of the entrance. We brought people back to reality by showing them we were working to keep this place running. Seeing us in the same space as their guests somehow made them feel some type of way. I hated pretentious people.
All that thinking and here came the other valet, jogging back to the entrance like the managers required of us. It was a most inopportune moment to try and upstage me. I didn’t feel like jogging. Why would I jog for $1 extra an hour? Our tips didn’t reflect the need to hustle, so why was this shorter, fatter valet trying to act like it was time to actually work? He was probably doing it to look good for his fellow Ethiopian manager. Annoying.
I started to jog to keep up with him, but my legs quickly returned to a walk. I’d be even more irritated if I jogged back to the driveway just to find no car had pulled up. Jogging just to fine out we’re still not making money tonight. I wish I would. Who cared if he beat me? I was going at my pace. I was in control. I did what I wanted to do.
By the time I reached the entry driveway, there was only one car, and a bunch of guys standing around. The manager had gone back inside. Only the supervisors were policing the front. I walked over to the window by the double doors I was standing by, and handed the keys to the cashiers inside.
The cashiers were all women, and the majority of the time you approached that window, they were on their phones. You couldn’t blame them when it was slow, like that night. However, they had to have a rule established to not have their phones at work. Far too often, a guest would approach the window and find them as I did with their heads down and their eyes in their phones.
I left the keys with the little, red valet tag for them to sort out and hang up. Three steps away from the window and I was already irritated again. I hated being in the front, where all the eyes and cameras were. Too many times, our superiors told us about how they spied on us. They’d come out and say, “We saw you on your phone on the camera.” They walk out of the door and say, “You guys need to stand in a straight line.” The hotel managers would be watching from the inside while texting photos of us during our antics. I hated the entrance. I hated it even more knowing that there was a supervisor less capable than me operating it. I had to leave!
Another car pulled in. I was at the back of the line, and thus last to go and park a car, but I didn’t care. I’d take it. Soon as the guest exited the vehicle to receive his ticket, I hurried to the front door. The other valet thought to complain, but a simple shake of the head dismantled him. I didn’t want to be in the front, and so I was going to take the car.
Soon as the guest took one step inside the hotel, I sat in the car and drove off. I was slow again. I had ten minutes before I bothered to come back. I was going to take my time. I hated slow nights!
The rotation was a little too much like my life. I was going in circles. I was waking up, applying to jobs, watching TV, eating, going to work, coming home with just enough money to make it, going to sleep, waking up, applying for jobs, reading auto-replies denying my application from months ago, watching TV, eating, going to work, and coming home with just enough money to do it all again. I was stuck. I was stuck and I didn’t know how to get free.
I began to wonder if this was my place in life. Perhaps, I’d be that guy who didn’t make it to being a published author and screenwriter. Perhaps, I wouldn’t even be good enough to become a valet supervisor. I would live out my life parking cars, watching other people pass me by and elevate their lives. I was trapped.
My thoughts carried me to another spot close to where I parked the last car. I sat again, thinking about my life. I hated it. I felt unaccomplished. I felt worthless. I felt unwanted. I felt naïve. I felt alone.
I sighed, feeling the weight of each beat in my heart. My heart was dying. My ambition was withering into defeat. I wanted to lean the seat back, but it wasn’t my car. My car would’ve been more comfortable. This man had a cheaper car than me, but could afford to stay at the hotel I worked at when I could not. I was parking his car. He wasn’t parking mine. I served him. He didn’t serve me.
My body sank into the chair. All of my body felt like dead weight. I found my shoulders struggling to bear the weight of my arms. Despite all this, it still felt like a pressure forcing its weight onto me. I was familiar with this feeling. The last time I felt it, I woke up to find a demon standing over me. It was getting hard to breathe.
My eyes began to dry. I felt the water squeezing its way to the surface. My lips began to tremble. I exhaled, and with it, my fight left. I was weeping. I was weeping in another man’s car at my job. I began to wipe my eyes, because Lord knows it’d be all the more frustrating to have another valet, or a spying manager catch me losing control in a guest’s car. Even in the depth of my depression, displaying manly strength was necessary.
As I wiped my eyes clean, more tears poured out. My breathing had turned into quick inhales followed by extended, vibrational exhales. I couldn’t stop crying. I hated my life. I wanted out. I wanted a way out without having to commit suicide. I wanted to just go. I hated responsibility, I hated parking cars, I hated society, I hated not having what I needed, let alone what a wanted. I hated it all, and there was no one to comfort me.
Then, the subtle presence of God hovered over me. It was the kind of presence you feel when your best friend is approaching. They’re not beside you, talking to you, but your aura automatically shifts because you know they will be soon.
With all of my strength, I cried out to God aloud, “Lord, I need You. I’m so tired. I don’t know what this is but I need You to free me. Take this weight off of me. Whatever this is, take it away from me. I don’t want it. I don’t need it. Help me, please.”
Instantly, the weight on my body lifted from me. I felt perkier than I was ten seconds ago. My spirit lifted from within me. I felt the fullness of my lungs as I rose up in the chair. Whatever it was that was weighing me down was gone. I felt lighter.
I wiped my eyes for the final time, and said, “Thank You.”
Then, I got out of the car. I continued to clean my face as I walked away from the car, making sure it was locked. My footsteps felt lighter. I began to process what I had just experienced. I didn’t think my body would react so quickly to a heartfelt prayer. It was so strange, it felt like divine intervention. Somehow, my body responded to something God had done.
I approached the railing once again and leaned over. My thoughts had truly changed. It was no longer bitterness, envy, hatred, or depression. My God just comforted me. I felt relieved, loved, heard, cherished, and important. He visited me. Without saying a word or revealing Himself, He comforted me. I had the nerve to smile. I had the nerve to have joy.
Taken back by what I had experienced, I returned to the elevator. I went back down the stairs and each moment felt less burdensome. My God was fighting unknown forces for me. Something had attached itself to my emotions, expectations, and hopes, and God removed it. He didn’t wait. He came instantly when I noticed it and cried out for Him. It was so wild.
My outlook on life changed with each lighter step I took. Perhaps, this is how Samson felt when his strength returned. All the humiliation, chains, defeat, and weakness didn’t matter. My God returned my strength to me. That’s all I needed to move forward with hope again.
By night’s end, I hadn’t made any more money than expected. It did not suddenly become a busier day. When the supervisor handed us our earnings, it no longer mattered to me. My God had just covered me in His love. He had protected me from a level of depression I had never felt before. He pulled me out of darkness and despair. God was there, going through that season with me. I had a new way to approach God in the midst of my emotions. Though I wouldn’t find a new job for a few more months, I also wouldn’t find myself depressed and weeping in a stranger’s car ever again…