Lady, please rest before driving home

Source: The New Paper , Chang May Choon, Sat, Feb 02, 2008

HER eyes were glazed and her stance was shaky.

‘Got any block? Got any block?’ she kept asking.

It was 3am at St James Power Station last Saturday and the woman hovering around the valet station waiting to collect her car looked like she had a lot to drink.

Click here to find out more!Yet, she was sober enough to ask if there were any road blocks nearby that she should be aware of.

Her car arrived and she sank into the driver’s seat, ready to drive off.

But a man clad in black – the valet manager on duty – intercepted her to check if she was well enough to drive.

‘Would you like to take a breath analyser test?’ he asked in a friendly, non-threatening tone.

Why not step out of the car and have a rest before driving home, he suggested.

More than just looking after vehicles, nightclub car valets now help to nip drink driving in the bud by coaxing clearly intoxicated guests out of their car seats.

To see how they operated, The New Paper spent two hours with the valet team at St James last week.

The guys were from GN Valet Pte Ltd, which also manages the service at Shangri-la Hotel and the National Museum.

MORE DRINK DRIVERS CAUGHT

The number of drink-drivers caught last year increased by 7 per cent to 4,009 – the highest figure in 10 years.

And the new traffic police operation known as ring-fencing, which uses roadblocks to seal off all routes out of major watering holes, is expected to start over Chinese New Year next week.

But if the St James car valets get their way, tipsy drivers won’t even get to leave the club’s premises.

Valet manager Peter Tang – the man in black – managed to persuade the intoxicated woman to rest and let the effects of alcohol wear off.

She smiled when I asked if she was okay, but declined to comment once she heard I was from the press.

A plastic chair was whipped out for her and she plonked herself down.

But she probably didn’t feel comfortable sitting out in the open, and asked if she could go to her car.

The last I saw, she was resting in her own vehicle with the windows wound down.

Mr Tang, 31, said guests like her usually fall asleep because they are too tired from a night of partying and drinking.

Until she was ready to leave, he said he and his valet team would continue to observe her and tend to her needs.

DRIVING GUESTS BACK

Other guests, like St James regular Eric Ng, 30, a private banker, opted for the valet drive-back service. He was spotted with his girlfriend, looking a little flushed.

I approached him after he got into the back of his white BMW convertible and asked what he thinks of the drive-back service.

‘Damn good!’ he said with a laugh. ‘If I’m drinking, I make sure they take me home.’

A responsible driver indeed.

Mr Tang said some of their regulars would ‘automatically’ sign up for the drive-back service, especially if they are out to drink the night away.

Those who are tipsy and need a little more persuasion are advised not to risk having their driver’s licence suspended.

A third option is to take a taxi home and return the next day to collect their cars.

In the one year he has been working at StJames, Mr Tang claimed he has not met any aggressive guests who insist on driving themselves despite being drunk.

‘Some people are stubborn but after their friends talk to them, they cool down. So far, we haven’t met those who want to fight with us.’

On weekend evenings, a team of 20 to 25 valets are on duty. Their shift starts at 6pm and ends at 6am.

Most of them are in their 20s and 30s and have at least three years of driving experience. They take turns to drive guests back.

Mr Tang said they get up to 20 jobs on busy nights – especially on the eve of public holidays when people generally go out to celebrate.

Clients pay a fee of $50 to $60, depending on whether they are alone or with friends who also require a lift home.

Patience is a virtue on the job, said Mr Tang, who started out as a valet five years ago because he wanted to drive different kinds of cars. He once drove a guest home in his red Ferrari, he said with a laugh.

Each job takes around an hour to complete and usually entails a lot of waiting.

The car owner may fall asleep or be so drunk he cannot recall his home unit number.

So the valet stays with him until he recovers, then takes him to his doorstep before taking a taxi back.

Sometimes, the valet also gets requests to drive the client out for supper first.

Popular eateries include the nearby KTM railway station hawker centre and late-night dining joints along River Valley Road.

Mr Tang said: ‘Some customers invite them (the valets) to join, but mostly they hang around the vehicles.’

He added that his guys on the job outside also alert him if they spot road blocks.

In the two hours I was there, there were eight drive-back requests.

So, what happened to the drunken lady?

Mr Tang said over the phone later that he woke her up around 6am when the club was closing. ‘I asked her, ‘Miss, are you okay?’

‘She said she felt very fresh and then she drove off.’

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