Valet Sharking

No tips for the weary; swan-eating croc irks park

You probably think parking valets, the spry soldiers of the asphalt who park and fetch your vehicles amid heat, humidity, and Hummer-size hubris, get to keep the five- and ten-dollar bills you slip into their palms. How nice it is, you think, to be a fat-cat lawyer or big-time hoodlum who can afford such service and largesse. You might even slide your valet dude a twenty, contemplating how many of these glorified gophers send 80 percent of their earnings from this and their other jobs to relatives in, say, Camagüey or Cali.

But beware when you tip a valet working for RS Parking Systems, a Hallandale-based company that parks autos for Morton's Steakhouse at 1200 Brickell Ave. in downtown Miami and other places. Under one of RS's systems, valets must systematically turn over tips to the boss, says an outraged member of the parking underclass who requested anonymity. Their only compensation is seven to eight dollars per hour, often in cash, regardless of how much tip money piles up. (It costs four dollars for the valet service at Morton's.) Our source tolerated the injustice for about six months and then complained. The response to his activism: You're fired. "For having told the truth I ended up without work for three months," he says.

At first RS Parking Systems owner Ronald H. Sussman steered away from confirming or denying the existence of a tip-siphoning system. "Every place is run different. It's in my manager's hands," he dodged by cell phone. But by the end of the conversation he assured that his valets at the downtown Morton's get to keep all their tips: "Absolutely. They sure do."

Valerie Cassidy does her best Edie Brickell 
impersonation while dominating a concrete gator at 
Crandon Park Gardens
Jonathan Postal
Valerie Cassidy does her best Edie Brickell impersonation while dominating a concrete gator at Crandon Park Gardens

And the valiant ex-valet? "Never worked for the company," Sussman replied quickly. "I'm absolutely positive." Why, then, would a non-ex-employee bother to buttonhole The Bitch? The parking exec didn't know either. "Could be somebody from another company," Sussman surmised. "Could be the competition."

A valet for PK1, a competing company, says he receives five dollars per hour and keeps any tips he's given.

News travels fast on the valet circuit. Shortly after taking Sussman's disclaimer, The Bitch received word that the RS Parking president "contacted" someone at the Morton's unit. Employees there then notified our tipster. "[Ronny] must have called or passed by and said that through fault of mine, New Times had called," the ex-valet says.

One night earlier this week, The Bitch paid a visit to Morton's to corroborate the, uh, tip. "Yes, we give them to the company," a shorts-and-windbreaker-clad valet confirmed. When asked whether he thought that was fair, he just shrugged.

The Bitch likes big ships and she cannot lie. For Miami Beach residents as well as the seafaring canine, the Olympic Voyager has become as permanent a fixture on the eastern horizon as the downtown skyline is to the west. But the cruise ship won't provide a sunrise silhouette much longer.

The vessel has been anchored off South Beach since February. The 836-passenger ship tied up at the Port of Miami in January, cutting short a planned cruise to the Amazon after Greek owner Royal Olympic Cruises went bankrupt. The company couldn't afford to dock the ship while navigating the red tape necessary to auction it, so they moved it out to sea, where a skeleton crew has been tending to nautical affairs: hauling in the mizzenmast, securing the bots'un, battening down the yardarm -- stuff like that. Aside from basic maintenance, what does the crew of a ghost ship do for three months? Read Gravity's Rainbow? Play laser tag with the flare guns? "Right now [crew members] are in the process of changing the flags, and they'll probably have to change the name, too," says ship's agent Nelson Rengifo of V-Ships Agency, who firmly denied The Bitch's request to come aboard.

A triumvirate of German banks bought another Royal Olympic ship, the Olympic Explorer, on March 24, two days before they spent $97.2 million to buy the Voyager at an auction on the steps of the Broward County Courthouse.

Our waters run rampant with renegade reptiles. A marauding crocodile has been feasting on the exotic bird population at Crandon Park Gardens, leaving Valerie Cassidy in a foul mood. As founder of the nonprofit group that transformed the abandoned zoo at Crandon Park's south end into a lush tropical garden filled with ponds, lagoons, and meandering paths, Cassidy has been populating the Gardens with exotic birds for more than a decade. To date the crocodile (estimated at six feet in length, and growing) has eaten about $5000 worth of waterfowl. Among the animals consumed: a pair of black-necked swans (worth about $1100 apiece), a mute swan, and two European shelducks.

The diminutive Brit recently spent a night in the wilds of the Gardens, trying to find out where the crocodile hides. "I had a flask of coffee and some biscuits, and I put my plastic sheet and blanket down on the ground," Cassidy says. "But it just appeared in the water in front of me. I never saw how it got there. Then I fell asleep and woke up with guardian angels -- cranes -- on either side of me.

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