Picture: By Kate Brooks/Polaris for the New York Times
As the world economy sinks into recession one industry remains prosperous in the country of the Cedar. The recent controversy over the nightlife in the Beirut quarter of Gemmayze has highlighted how a horde of young men in dark uniforms and baseball caps can take over a neighborhood with the sole aim of … parking your car for you.
This phenomenon might seem completely alien to foreigners who would not dare to get behind the wheel of a car following a few drinks. But with the lack of public transport and the absence of consistent law enforcement drinking and driving on a night out is the norm. And when you consider that the average Lebanese youth is blessed with a car at the tender age of 17 providing easy access and parking facilities becomes a priority for any establishment in the competitive Beirut nightlife environment.
Enter the Valet! For a few dollars this young man (the fairer sex has not gotten on the job yet but given their recent track record it is only a matter of time) will bring you peace of mind and respectability while you get to enjoy the finer things in life, hopefully suitably accompanied. This service is offered outside nightclubs, bars, cafes, supermarkets, minimarkets, takeaway outlets and Kentucky Fried Chicken. The workforce is young, healthy and motivated but the advancement opportunities are not clear: Superintendant Valet? Head Valet? Interestingly their dress code has evolved over the years. The casual jeans and T-shirt look has been replaced by combat shoes, combat trousers and a matching top. The rumour has it that at least some networks of Valets are linked to political parties and sectarian militias who use the cover to train and organize recruits in preparation for the all but imminent confrontation.
Next time you hand him your keys be nice to your Valet. He is less likely to dent your car or put a bullet in your head.