This article originally appeared on VICE Greece
For the past five years, Sotiris Tsiakoulis has worked as a parking valet for some of Greece's most exclusive bars and clubs. The 27-year-old first got into the business when some friends set him up with a job parking cars for an art gallery. Soon after that, he started working for the most lavish venues in Greece, like the nightclubs Skorpios on Mykonos and Sideradiko in Athens. His working nights consist of parking rare supercars worth millions of pounds, so their owners can have a hassle-free start to their evening of whatever it is rich people do in fancy clubs.
I spoke to Sotiris to find out what it's like driving hundreds of expensive cars a night, and how difficult it is to stop rich celebrities from drink-driving.
VICE: What makes a good parking valet?
Sotiris Tsiakoulis: Being attractive, well groomed and a good driver are the most important things. And when I say "good driver", I basically mean that you need to know how to handle supercars. If you don't and you drive away in one, you can easily lose control and wreck the car. Also, you need to smile a lot. You're the first person guests see before they come in, so smiling really helps set the tone for their night.
What's the most outrageous thing you've experienced on the job?
Two years ago, I was working at Skorpios in Mykonos when this drunk guy walked up to me, pointed to an expensive Mercedes parked outside the club and asked me how much it cost. I told him I thought it would be around €200,000 (£178,000). He laughed and walked away. Half an hour later, he came back even more wasted and started pissing on the car's door. When I tried to stop him, he calmly said, "Money can't buy you happiness." It seemed like the ramblings of a jealous drunk, but before he left he handed me €100.
I'm not sure why, but I thought the whole thing was so strange that I spent the next few days trying to figure out who he was. I eventually found out from people on the island that the guy was filthy rich, but I still don't know his whole story.
Have you ever found anything dodgy in someone's car?
I've seen it all – guns, knives, drugs, you name it. I once got into the driver's seat of a car and realised I was sitting on a handgun. When you've worked in nightlife for as long as I have, you meet all kinds of dodgy people. Once, after handing me his keys, this guy kept going on and on about how I should take very good care of his car. He then told me he had loads of guns hidden inside, which I obviously took as a threat. Less than five minutes after he left, the police arrived. There were no guns in the car, but it was reported stolen. I don't know whether the guy was ever found or arrested, but I bet he thought intimidating me was really funny.
Have you ever crashed a client's car?
Well, I had an incident in Mykonos once, but it wasn't really my fault. I was reversing this really old car that was so battered, the wind blew open one of its doors, smashing into an expensive car right next to it. I might tap another car from time to time, but I'm a very careful driver – unlike some of my colleagues, who have caused thousands of pounds of damage over the years.
Have you ever taken someone's car for an unauthorised spin?
Sure, if I'm really impressed with it, I might do that. I once made the most of parking a BMW M4 – I was sliding and drifting with it, there was smoke coming from the tyres. But I stayed inside the car park, of course.
What are quiet nights like?
Like most jobs like this, it quickly gets boring when you're not busy, because you're just waiting around. And fewer clients means less pay and an annoyed boss.
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Have you ever become friends with any of the guests?
Yes, quite a few. There are people who I never charge because they've become mates over the years. Extremely rich people can be very much like normal people – some of them are more serious and keep to themselves, others are more relaxed and open up easily when you chat to them.
How has the profession changed in the five years you've been doing this?
It's nothing like when I started. Five years ago, the crisis hadn't properly hit the richest people in Greece yet, and the tips I would get were five times higher than what I'm getting now. People easily tipped me €10 or €20 before, and now they might tip €2 or €3, if at all. Now, if I get a €10 tip I consider myself very lucky.
Have you ever had to prevent drunk people from driving?
I always try to stop drunk guests from getting behind the wheel. I recently had a guy who was absolutely pissed – completely out of it. I calmly told him it wasn't right to drive in his state. Thankfully, he listened to me and came back the next morning to get his car. Sometimes, I even drive people home myself.
It does happen – especially in Mykonos – that there's just not much I can do because people get angry when you tell them they've drunk too much to drive. Being super rich and drunk at the same time is often not a good combination – people can start behaving very arrogantly, which puts us valets in a very awkward situation. I usually try to talk them down, but that doesn't mean I can always stop them from driving.
Do you like working at night?
Yes, you meet all kinds of people and it's a world of extremes. There might be a quiet couple enjoying a simple dinner on one side of the street, while on the other side, people are getting legless and spending thousands on booze alone. And it's definitely a perk that there's good money to be made working at night.