In our "day in the life" series running this week, we check in with the men and women who keep New York City's rentals, co-ops, and condos safe, clean, and secure, and who ought to be on most everyone's tipping list. Below: An Upper East Side garage attendant who's been working at the same garage for six-and-a-half years (in case you were wondering, this particular one charges $485.75 a month). He's a union employee paid hourly, but relies heavily on his year-end tips.
How the day begins and ends
I leave home in Queens about an hour before I need to get to work. Luckily I can usually park my car here in the garage. I work Sunday through Friday from 2 pm to 10 pm or 12 am.
When I get in, I look at the white board with the schedule of who's going out when so I can get the cars ready. That's really important. We always need to keep track of which cars need to go out when. That's the most important thing to ask someone: when they plan to come out. I always explain to customers that they need to give us a good enough warning to get the car ready.
Sometimes we're so busy that I don't have time for lunch. I heat and reheat my dinner in the microwave three or four times.
You always have to be very alert while you're at work. You can damage these cars easily if you're not paying attention. Also, around here it's very busy with kids going to school in the morning and coming home in the afternoon. Sometimes they scoot and run past, so you have to be so careful when you're pulling the cars out and make sure there's no one around you.
Sometimes people will ask you to wash their car if you have free time, and they'll pay you extra for that. Trust me, people in garages can wash your car better than anyone at a car wash.
Every year, after Thanksgiving we give out a holiday card to all of our monthly customers with our names on it.
When you work at a garage in midtown or downtown, you usually get a lot of "transits." (Editor's note: Those are the people who come in and out in one day as opposed to "monthlies" who leave their car there for the month.) In those garages, you get a lot more daily tips, a $1, $2 here and there. You can make $50 a day on tips, sometimes more.
This one, because, it's in a residential neighborhood, and in a residential building, is better at Christmas, though people still sometimes give a couple of dollars when they come and go. I have one monthly customer who gives $5 each time she goes in and out. Usually it's a couple of dollars. I have one friend who worked in a garage near Central Park and said each of the garage attendants got $500 every Christmas from one lady. (Editor's note: Though he didn't want to give specific tip amounts, when pressed, he said that the range of $25 to $100, according to Brick's tipping guide, was right.)
But it's not just about the money
If a holiday falls on one of my working days, I work, and people will bring me Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. But it's not just on holidays. I have people who bring me steaks when they come back from a restaurant. One woman once brought me a lobster and bacon sandwich with fries when she got back from dinner. I asked her if it was leftovers, and she said, no, she just ordered it for me.
Many of the customers here are like family. I've found that if you're open to them, and nice, they give you the love back. Sometimes people give me a basket of cookies with my tips. I've gotten a scarf, a hat and earphones from people, too. It can get cold in here when the door's open and I'm not in the office, so warm clothes help.
What you may not know about being a garage attendant
Sometimes we find some strange things in cars. One time someone left a big dog in their car without telling me and I look over my shoulder and he's growling in my ear. That was scary. I've seen luggage open with all kinds of dirty underwear all over the backseat. You learn not to judge people in this job.
Part of the job is also putting up with people who can be mean. I once asked a woman when she needed to get her car back and she started screaming at me, "You're not my husband, it's none of your business!"
I realize that there are a lot of fumes, and that some people worry about that. I'm happy that in my garage I'm not always underground, and we're mostly on the ground floor. But mostly I have faith in God that I'll be okay.
Some perks of the job
I've been able to drive Lamborghinis and Rolls Royces. Sometimes, in other parking lots we've had famous people come in. While we're not supposed to park those high-end cars (for security purposes), they'll give you $20 to $50 tip to do it. That can be fun. Sometimes they're really nice, other times they're not. I had one famous athlete who would give me $50 when I parked his car. That was fun.
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