Friday, October 5, 2012

Puttin' On The Ritz

One of my first jobs in Vancouver was parking cars at The Ritz Hotel on Burrard Street. I have searched the Internet for a photo of this long since demolished hotel but could not find one. Too bad. For you historians, radio station CJOR broadcast from the Ritz for many years and broadcaster Pat Burns was a regular visitor to my booth out the side door as was the Vancouver Sun's "Night-Beat" columnist Jack Wasserman, a friend of Burns who would stop by for a drink in the bar many nights. Very interesting men who always had a story to share.

My job at the Ritz involved working in the parking lot from four until ten on week nights and four to midnight on Friday and Saturday nights. I would take the bus right from school and do homework in slack periods (ya, right). I actually worked for a contractor, the Downtown Parking Corporation. In those days the customer pulled up to the side door and I would park their car, hang their keys on the wall of my booth and when they came back out, grab their keys, fetch their car and charge them fifteen cents an hour ($.25 for the first hour) for the time they were parked. If they intended to stay after closing time I would park their car in our unlocked overflow lot across the street, charge them for up till closing time and give them their keys back. It was a great system and since the Ritz was an "upper class" hotel, I got to drive a lot of very nice cars! It made up for my $1.15 per hour wage (plus tips). This was not my first job, that one was as a bagger at the Loblaws grocery store in Burnaby's Guilford Mall back in 1961 when I was in grade ten and worked after school Friday nights and all day Saturday.

The Ritz was the haunt of many high class "Ladies Of The Night" who plied their trade in the hotel. Several parked their cars with me and you would never know their line of business unless you got you know them better, as I did (in my profession, not theirs). One of them drove a newish (Early 60's) Jaguar. It was a beautiful car. One night as she was parking she said, "I am flying down to San Francisco for the weekend with a client. Could you wash my car for me while I am gone"? I told her I had no access to a hose and it was not one of the services the hotel offered. She then asked, "Could you take it home and wash it there?"  Well, she didn't have to ask me twice! I got to drive one of the classiest cars sold for three whole days. I returned it to her spotlessly clean and with a few hundred extra miles on it! I was rewarded with a tip of $10, more than a day's pay. What can I say, she liked me.

Remember, I was only 17 or 18 and the legal drinking age was 21 at that time. The Four Tops once played a few nights in the Ritz lounge. One of the the hotel managers was friendly to me and at midnight Saturday night as I was cashing out he came out to ask if I would like to go in to see their last performance and have a drink at the bar on him. I told him thanks, but I was not 21 and did not want to get him in trouble. I was tall and looked older so he said, "No problem, you are my guest". He took me in, we sat at the bar and he bought me a rum and coke as we watched the last set of The Four Top's Vancouver visit. After they finished the group came over to the bar for a drink and I met all of them, including Jackie Wilson's cousin Levi Stubbs. That was the start of my lifelong love of Motown music.

I stayed there until after I graduated and started working full time at a gas station across from the Queen Elizabeth Theatre for the same employer. I will save that story for another post.


  1. Croft
    That's a good story and reminded me of when my son was a valet (fancy word for a kid who parks cars) at a posh country club in Omaha. He parked a lot of Beemers, Mercedes and Jags, but the highlight for him was when he parked a Lamborghini. Tips were sometimes generous. It was a private club frequented by Warren Buffett, who at times brought guests, including Bill Gates. On one occasion the limo pulled up and one was carrying a briefcase, which my son offered to carry in for them. After he was nearly up to the building they told him maybe he better let them carry it in. Come to find out it was stuffed with cash. They liked to play cards and obviously it was high stakes games. On another occasion a lady guest and her husband were frantic and explained that she had lost her diamond bracelet. After a search of the club they could not find it. My son suggested he would look in their car and found it under the seat, apparently lost when she undid her seatbelt. The woman's husband offered my son a $100 tip, which he declined and he told my son to take the tip, since it saved him untold "aggravation."
    Bill in Nebr.

    1. It's a whole different world! At one time my English teacher from high school pulled into the lot. She spent five minutes telling me I should be doing something more that working in a parking lot. I thought I had the best job in the world. I did eventually grow up and get a good job but it was sure fun while it lasted!

    2. Ha! The world is sure your oyster when you are young, eh.

  2. Fun blog to read. It was an interesting time while you worked as a parking attendant, that's for sure.

  3. I must say I am impressed. Colin also did the parking attendant gig but I like your stories best.

  4. I lied about my age and got a job in a hedge trimmer factory. I was 16 and the ladies working along side me were in their 20s, no luck there, I was the RJ baby from the start-treated like a favorite pet.
    A non-union shop it was. My shit was black the entire time I worked there from the carbon steel dust in the air that poured off the grinders. The reason a 16 year old was working the job would be my guess.