A month into my adult life, I was thoroughly enjoying unemployment. Despite my bachelor’s in arts from the revered University of Central Florida cinema studies program (not the actual film school) with an impressive 2.9 GPA, a resume chock-full of invaluable collegiate leadership roles like social and sorority relations chairs, and an admirable no cover letter stance on applications, I hadn’t received so much as an email informing me I was a severely under-qualified candidate.
My time was spent waking up at noon, throwing around ungodly amounts of weight at the rec and wellness center that I was now paying to be a member at, and smoking bowl after bowl at my buddy’s apartment that we referred to as “The Launch Pad.” I’d then head over to the fraternity house that I was still living in to pre game, hit the bars to blow cash I didn’t have, get picked up by my then girlfriend, go back to her place to smash, and do it all over again the following day. It was pure ecstasy — not having a single ounce of responsibility. But needless to say, the parents were anything but thrilled with my assimilation into retirement on their dime at 22.
I flew too close to the sun, and they rightfully cut my ass off after dropping over a hundo at the local watering hole that notoriously served up free drinks after a meager $7 cover. They apparently didn’t find this accomplishment nearly as impressive as those who witnessed it first hand. I mean where else can I buy an entire establishment not one, but three rounds of shots with just a crisp Benjamin Franklin? You take that opportunity every single chance you get, and deal with the consequences later. Shooters shoot and I have the forward thinking as your typical goldfish.
Because of that, the big swinging dick of reality caught me right across the chin leaving me scrambling in a perpetual “fatality dance” daze. I had no money, my lease was up in a few weeks, and my only apparent job prospect was moving back to suburban Philadelphia to follow in the old man’s footsteps and get into the water treatment operating business.
My full-time internship at Golf Channel during the fall that I crushed and left with my boss saying “when you graduate, we’ll find a place for you” seemingly was long forgotten. Texts, phone calls, and emails all went unanswered as if I was an ex-boyfriend calling at 2 a.m. three years after the breakup.
Finally staring down a future of fifty-plus years of union work complaining about “the man sticking it to me” on a daily basis, settling down with a Delco 8 (a soft 6 anywhere else), and an imminent unsatisfying existence in the dreary sports abyss capital of the world, I decided to start looking for temporary, non-career beneficial occupations to keep the lights on in Florida.
For whatever reason, about a dozen of my undergrad fraternity brothers worked valet for this company all across the greater Orlando area. So I submitted an online application with a loaded reference section along with my boy Will — who also desperately needed a job — and we got interviews set up all within twenty minutes.
As I rolled up to his house to carpool, I just laughed at the sight of him wearing virtually the same outfit as myself — going ultra business casual — rocking a blue checkered button down with khaki pants, not knowing it was a group interview. When we actually sat down in a board room together with three property managers and five other applicants, rather than be embarrassed by the similar attire we just owned it and went full “we planed this ‘Step Brothers’ style” blowing the roof off the damn place as a team. Not that it mattered. All the job evidently required was a driver’s license, the ability to repeat the same scripted interaction with customers coming and going, and serious self control to not run over condescending, blue tooth donning assholes who will “get you” next time.
Both of us were offered gigs, on the spot, at one of the ritziest hotels the company serves. I’m talking about a clientele where I’d be leaving work with $200 on a bad day. Not to mention, the uniform was just a Hawaiian shirt and shorts. This worked out better than I could have ever imagined. That line of thought last all of five minutes.
Will ends up failing the drug test because he goes with the cheaper detox kit than myself, and I get transferred — before I even start — to a hellhole of poor people whose idea of an exotic vacation is Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Suddenly, visions of whipping around in Ferraris and Lambos in breathable floral pattern apparel were replaced with rent-a-car mini vans and mid-size sedans in an outfit inspired by a confederate army drummer boy.
My first day on the job, I could tell this particular hotel had a high turnover rate, as it was also the first day on the job for about ten other guys. We all assembled in the property manager’s office, where banal posters of “be a team player” and “arriving early is on time” hung on the walls next to a giant white board that read “0 days since our last accident.” Behind the desk, sat maybe the most obvious sleaze bag I’ve ever laid eyes on. With a shiny purple oxford, gold chain, and greasily slicked back hair, our boy looked like straight Vegas strip trash. Of course, he then introduced himself with two first names. You ever meet someone whose mere presence leaves you feeling dirty and wanting to take a shower immediately after associating with such a vile individual? That was my superior.
We spent a few hours learning the lay-of-the-land, proving we could park a car in reverse, and memorizing greetings and goodbyes word for word because being a sincere human being isn’t what hospitality is about. The sooner we passed our repetition of “the script” the sooner we could start making tips — which was huge, because we were only making $4.25 an hour.
Unfortunately, every tip we did get went into a massive pile to be split by all of those on the clock. Not terrible if it was just the ten people needed to sufficiently keep the place running fluidly, but we were always overstaffed because two first names would schedule thirty fucking bodies to work at the same time.
The shift supervisors who were actually on the entrance ramp with us would realize this and send half of the team home to get a bigger portion of the pot. Understandable. That’s just how the hustle works. But being the new kids on the block, we were clearly the lowest on the totem poll. There were quite a few days I drove forty minutes to work, put in two hours, and got cut for the day with about $14 for my efforts.
After about two weeks, however, I started to have a better feel for the game, got in with veteran hierarchy, and my number was called to stay more often than not. Even then, I was making dog shit money and not putting any of it away. Once cash hits wallet it might as well be gone, because I’m not spending it on something useful.
So I covered for a few more shifts — attempting to make the drive to work worthwhile — to the point that management noticed and would just book me for doubles. Good thing about doubles: you weren’t getting cut. But you were running, driving, and parking cars along with dealing with the grundle of society for sixteen endless hours a day. During the week of 4th of July, I worked back to back to back to back doubles. I was a mindless drone, crawling through the motions by the end of day two, so you can only imagine where my head was at by the end of that grueling marathon. I legitimately contemplated driving off the top of the parking garage and into the hotel — ending my fucking life — rather than going back to write another valet ticket with each passing car I got into.
Between the sleep deprivation that was breaking the very fiber of my soul and the cast of shady characters that I worked with, how anyone felt comfortable handing their keys off to us was beyond my comprehension. Granted, we somehow scammed the hotel into making self-parking more expensive than valet, and the garage was on the other side of the planet. Save these animals — who were only here to begin with because they’re stupid and uninteresting enough to listen to a 90 minute time share pitch — a few bucks and add an inconvenient exercise into the mix and suddenly their vehicles drop down a few pegs in the importance of their lives. Burn a few calories or hand my car off to the tatted up Neo Nazi? Yeah, here’s a dollar for your trouble, Adolf.
The majority of my peers couldn’t have had much more than a GED. If they weren’t still buzzed from the night before, they usually toked up on the way in. These guys were pros, though. When there was an accident, ten times out of ten it was the straightforward virtuous goober who took the position way too seriously. Ironically, when push came to shove, and they had to answer for their mistakes, they gladly let the sketch crew devise a plan to cover their ass. You either get fired a hero or work long enough to see yourself become a villain. The self-righteous dingleberries that accepted that this was just part of the job usually were the ones that went on to be career employees who ran properties of their own.
Two months in, and I was on the brink of insanity. My girl couldn’t stand the cynical taint I was developing into, I couldn’t afford the simple luxuries of food or having a roof over my head, and the old bigoted white scrotum of a shuttle driver that picked us up from the garage to take us back to the ramp while listening to nothing but Limbaugh (who he called a “soft moderate pussy”) was becoming my closest friend. My life was now void of any and all meaning. Rock bottom. I was beyond saving — or so I thought.
It was an early Tuesday morning, and I was in a state of comatose after clocking out of the midnight shift. The sun was rising, birds chirped off in the distance, and hotel plants twinkled with water vapor sweating out from the brutal Florida summer humidity. My emotional numbness must have actually worn off on me physically, because I didn’t feel my phone vibrate at all. In fact, I went home, slept, and went back into work that night without ever seeing the missed call. That next morning, again, my phone rang. Luckily, this time, I had fallen asleep on my bed with it firmly placed a top of my forehead. I awoke like a prehistoric cave dweller unfrozen thousands of years into the future, not fully grasping where the hell I was or what was happening. I reluctantly answered the call, made nonsensical noises, and waited.
“Dan? Hey, it’s Rob. From Golf Channel. Sorry about not getting back to you sooner…”.
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