By John Geluardi
The last bohemian friendly valet operation in North Beach was unceremoniously shut down last week to make way for a more “professional” though troubled company that insists on time cards, good grooming and smart uniforms.
Lorenzo Petroni, the owner of North Beach Restaurant lost the lease on a nearby parking lot forcing him to sign a contract with the new company, Liberty Park Management, which has access to a parking garage several blocks from the restaurant.
On March 24, the staff of six valets relinquished the white zone in front of the restaurant at Stockton and Columbus where for 35 years dozens of artists, poets, actors, iconoclasts, free spirits and the confused were able to etch out a living as outrider valets.
“For those of us who didn’t want to embrace the 9 to 5 thing, it has been a way to have an edgy lifestyle and still earn a decent wage,” says Mike Rosene, a lifelong surfer who spends winters on the beach in Mexico. “We can work as long and hard as we want to and take off long stretches of time.”
Parking cars allowed Michael Campos to pursue his masters in international studies and travel extensively. Campos spent time in places like Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Nepal, Argentina and Bolivia.
“I usually traveled for at least one month every year, and last year, I traveled for three,” says Campos who is looking for a “real” job after working at the restaurant for 12 years. “Now I’ll probably be lucky to get two weeks.”
The valets who worked at North Beach Restaurant may have had longer hair and a piercing or two, but they were among the most experienced and most responsible in the city. They had fewer accidents than other companies and they developed longstanding relationships with customers who knew them by name and trusted them.
Liberty Park Management, on the other hand, has had its fair share of troubles despite the professional appearance. A CBS news team caught the valet company on video last November using customers’ cars for pizza runs and as shuttles to transport drivers in their crisp uniforms over the punishing hills that surround the neighborhood.
But the outriders may not have jockeyed their last car. At least three of the valets will be heading up the coast to Marshall where they’ll set up a weekend valet operation at Nick’s Cove on scenic Tomales Bay.