Parking vs. Pop Culture is a series of articles dedicated to significant parking references found in pop culture. The winner, either parking or pop culture, will be determined by whether the parking ended as a positive or negative experience in the particular pop culture reference. This issue’s parking reference is taken from an episode of “Mad Men.”
The AMC television drama is so suave that it deserves every one of its three Golden Globe awards and two Emmy wins for Outstanding Drama Series.
For four seasons now, and with the fifth one in development, “Mad Men” has followed the lives of ruthlessly competitive advertising men in 1960s New York as they work, live … and work. The show’s central character is successful, handsome and extremely talented ad exec Don Draper, played brilliantly by the debonair Jon Hamm.
Creative Director Draper and the other ad men work for Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, a fictional prestigious Madison Avenue ad agency. And like many other successful, handsome and extremely talented executives, he began his career … in the parking industry.
In “My Old Kentucky Home,” the third episode of Season 3, Draper attends a country club party where he soon grows bored and wanders off to an untended bar. He meets an older wedding guest, eventually revealed to be “Conrad Hilton” (yes, Paris Hilton’s great-grandfather). Over a couple of Old Fashioneds made by Draper, he and Hilton swap stories about their modest beginnings.
One story from Draper is that of his early career as a valet parking attendant. “Where I grew up,” he tells Hilton, “there was a roadhouse. It boasted live music. … I parked cars.
“Fancy people would go there,” Draper says. “They’d get loud, they’d get drunk, but they wouldn’t let me use the toilet. So when nature called, I’d open up a trunk and relieve myself. ...There’s probably some kid out there doing it to us right now.”
“Mad Men” is not the only Emmy-winning TV series with a funny valet parking reference. Another memorable moment comes from an episode of “Seinfeld.” In “The Smelly Car,” Jerry and Elaine discover a very strong smell of body odor left by the valet attendant who parked Jerry’s car. The stench is so terrible it causes Elaine’s boyfriend to break off their relationship.
Jerry later takes the car to a dealer and fails at selling it, and the odor eventually gets so bad that even a homeless guy won’t take it after Jerry abandons the car and keys on a city street. All of this because of a valet with bad body odor.
Every valet parking operation needs to concentrate on building customer confidence in general, but also to overcome the many negative pop culture valet parking stereotypes.
Andy Troth, Director of Parking and Transportation at Baylor Healthcare System, states: “The goal is to set a standard in both appearance of the drivers and offering above-and-beyond service. Many people relate valet parking to these pop culture scenarios, but that is changed when the customers first enter the valet area and are greeted with a professional-looking driver, and every aspect of the experience is at a high level of service.”
Another way to overcome these stereotypes starts with hiring the right people. In a National Valet Parking Association (NVPA) newsletter, Kathy Phillips of Alliant Insurance Services, recommends hiring valet drivers who are at least 21, and regardless of age, making sure to obtain and review their motor vehicle driving records.
Troth agreed: “There are a couple of key expectations that I look for from a potential valet driver – appearance and driving record.
“During the interview process, it is important how the applicants present themselves not only in how they dress, but in how they present themselves as professionals,” he said. “Their driving record is also a key consideration. If they have several traffic violations, they could be a risk in handling a customer’s vehicle.”
The NVPA itself has helped bring legitimacy to the valet service by staging the Valet Olympics, designed to recognize the country’s best. The event featured competitions such as Key Jumble, Slalom & Luggage Load Relay, Individual Maneuvering and Valet Relay to measure the skills of more than 10 companies. TownePark brought home the gold at the second annual event, at the association’s conference in Fort Lauderdale in March.
Whether it’s body odor or bodily fluids, parking is definitely getting negative exposure from “Mad Men” – or is it?
Actor Hamm has garnered worldwide recognition for his breakthrough role as former valet parking attendant Draper, receiving an Emmy, a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award. In that role, he has become an international sex symbol.
To top it off, in 2009, the character Don Draper was named the most influential man in the world by AskMen.com, ahead of both President Obama and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.
The point is this: Whatever “Don Draper” does or says has influence. And when he tells the world he began his working career in the parking industry, Parking means something. On the other hand, when “Draper” tells the world that he relieved his bladder in the trunk of a customer’s vehicle, Parking takes a hit. Pop Culture wins this one.
Isaiah Mouw, who works for Republic Parking System, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ben Bronsink, Co-Founder of snobbyreviews.com, can be reached at email@example.com.