Rick (just 'Rick'), the valet | Food & Drink Feature | Chicago Reader

Rick (just 'Rick'), the valet 

'Life is a roller coaster. When you're on the bottom you can only go up.'

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Rick, 54, is a car hike at Gene & Georgetti Steakhouse.

click to enlarge JEFFREY MARINI

My brother-in-law was an ex-policeman, and I started off with two other ex-policemen. Gene, the owner, he told us, stand outside, do whatever you want, park cars, greet the customers. And we made it a business.

It wasn't very busy then. We'd get a few cars a night. Gene was a great guy, God rest his soul, but when Gene passed, Tony and Marion Durpetti took it over and Tony has done wonders for the restaurant. He expanded and he updated, but when you walk in it's still the original feel. Tony really built the business up. It became like a real valet business. We have a handshake. They give us a garage keeper's insurance with a license and all that expensive stuff you need. So we're kind of independent contractors.

It's just Angelo and I. I used to only have two nights a week. Then one of my partners retired and I got four. Then the other partner retired and I got six. But Angelo and I take care of it. I'll work a lunch for him, he'll work a dinner for me. On Saturdays my oldest son drives down and helps me out.

There's some nights you don't really feel too good and you just gotta shake yourself off a bit and put a smile on your face. I'm the first person they see and do they want some grumpy asshole taking their car? Besides your house, for most people their car is their next biggest investment and they're always a little nervous. If I ever valet my car—which is very infrequently because we don't dine out like this—I'm always worried. Is he going to rifle through my car, or is he going to scratch it? The thing is, since I'm the only guy, if there's any abuse to your car you know who did it. There's not like ten guys, you know?

You gotta have empathy. When I walk into a restaurant and they treat me nicely, like I'm not an alien, then I feel good and I like the place. We go to an Old Country Buffet out by Arlington Heights and the lady that cleans your plates—it's the same one every time—takes care of us and it just makes us feel like home. And I take care of her. So when people come into Gene & Georgetti I like them to feel like family. Then they'll have a good time and they'll come back.

I'll tell you a cute story. About eight years ago Richie Daley's walking in the front door. It was in December, and he stops dead in his tracks and he turns around and goes, "Oh, Rick, Merry Christmas." Gee, sorry, I live in the suburbs now. I can't even vote for you.

My greatest story was Hertz. This had to be like 15 years ago. Lincoln Town Cars were their biggest renter. They always had specials, like $39.95. So the one customer—this was before I used to give out parking stubs—says, "Oh yeah, the Lincoln." So I give him his Lincoln; it's a rental. He pulls away and the next guy comes out and he says, "Oh, the Lincoln." At that point I went, "Oh duh, shit." I give him his car, he pulls away. They both come back at the same time. They pull up next to each other. He goes, "This ain't my car." The other guy goes, "This ain't my car—because when I got to the hotel I looked and the luggage wasn't in the trunk." And they switched cars.

You know what? I tell all my children life is a roller coaster. When you're on the bottom you can only go up. I try to live by that theory in my life, and believe me, it happens here a lot where the shit hits the fan—where three people want a cab, everybody's pulling up and screaming, or you can't locate a key because maybe you put it in the wrong pocket or it's on the wrong hook in the box.

The thing that sometimes causes a big backup is when the guy's in a really big hurry and he runs out of the car and then he comes back and he needs to get his cell phone and it's all because he's in such a big hurry. People pull up and are like, "Oh, I need to get something and I need to stop in the middle of the street." But customers can't do no wrong. And if you do, I'm not going to let you know you did. Really I don't want any negativity at all in the article." —As told to Tony Adler

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