A day in the life of our garage manager

Posted on Thu, 09/01/2022 - 12:30pm

By Tracy Poyser

This is the second article in our series titled “A day in the life of …,” intended to provide our readers with a detailed look at the everyday tasks of those who work at Malibu East. Subsequent articles in this series will appear on an irregular basis.

The more I delve into what it takes for a 500-unit residential building to run smoothly, the more I admire the dedication and skill needed to manage day-to-day operations like our garage. Who better to give us a behind-the-scenes look at this crucial part of Malibu East than Shariq Abbas, who took over from Ali Saeed 10 months ago and was named the new garage manager at the start of 2022. Ali had left Malibu East after nine years here for a new assignment, knowing he left our garage operations in good hands with Shariq, who had already been the garage supervisor from 2008 to 2021.

For Shariq, this promotion was not just an upward career move, but truly a new lease on life. He had suffered a massive widow-maker heart attack, with only a 6% survival rate, in the early morning hours of June 8, 2021, in the middle of his night shift. He was hospitalized and in rehab for three months. He’s feeling fine now, and although the manager position is both challenging and demanding, it’s more of a desk job and easier on him physically. Originally from Karachi, Pakistan, he’s been in the U.S. for 19 years and he and his wife live in Naperville. Their children are 16, 12 and four years old.

Shariq has a loyal and dedicated staff consisting of nine hikers, including supervisor Aisen Koureel, although it numbers 12-13 during the current construction phase. They are unionized employees of SP Plus – formerly Standard Parking, which has been in business in Chicago since 1929 and was rebranded toPlus Corporation in December 2013. Of course, day-to-day operations of our garage are directly linked to our condo office and property manager Violette Deschamps, who is the first to be informed about any issues.

Supervisor is key

Shariq tells me that the supervisor’s role is a crucial one: He makes sure that shifts are running smoothly, from daily routines to scheduled or unforeseen spikes in valet parking requests. Diplomacy, calm, flexibility and fast reflexes are the most important assets not only for Shariq and Aisen, but also any of the hikers whose customer service skills help to avoid conflicts and complaints from often impatient parkers.

Having enough hikers assigned and on site to accommodate peak times is a core task for both supervisor and manager at the start of each of the five overlapping daily shifts: 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. and 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Either the manager or the supervisor needs to be on the premises every day, so Shariq’s shifts run Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., and on Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. As supervisor, Aisen works Saturday and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Monday, Thursday and Friday from 3 to 11 p.m.

One of Shariq’s office walls displays floor plans for the garage’s three floors, for a total of 506 spaces as of July 31. As of mid-August, 444 spaces were assigned – 185 single self-parkers, 38 tandem spots, 218 valet parkers, two motorcycles and one preferred parker. When some areas need to be blocked off for construction or repairs, stopgap solutions are required, such as using empty tandem stalls for self-parking. Garage staff can also fill tires, provide battery jumps and use car jacks to move locked vehicles. And, there’s a staff break room with refrigerator and microwave.

A ‘typical’ day

Although every day brings different challenges, Shariq starts his workday at 5 or 6 a.m. with a 50-mile drive from his home in the western suburbs. His first task of the day is to check in with the night guys about any complaints or concerns, review their shift reports and other paperwork, and verify the cash collected from visitor parking (only cash or parking coupons are accepted – no credit cards). Depending on the amount, he may go to the bank as early as possible to deposit it. Unless he’s super busy, he also checks in with the bookkeeper for SP Plus to review items such as cancellations in monthly parking.

A key part of Shariq’s day is a thorough facility inspection of all three floors to check for problems, such as water leaks and infiltration (especially after heavy rains), oil spills, construction issues and any new concerns parkers or hikers may have brought to the garage management’s attention. Winter brings extra challenges, with cars starting more slowly and more of them needing to be jumped – and that affects wait times for valet parkers. And, the entire garage gets power-washed at least twice a year, which takes about 3-4 days per floor, with self-parkers getting alerted ahead of time and instructed what to do.

Shariq also checks in with the Management Office for any special instructions, such as MECA or residents’ events when guests are expected to need valet parking. It’s important input for the weekly schedule Shariq and Aisen determine on Wednesday or Thursday of the prior week. Our residents can help by alerting the office (or garage) as early as possible if they expect more than a few guests. It’s hard to avoid frustration and long wait times when 20 vehicles arrive at the same time, expecting valet parking, while self-parkers get annoyed waiting in line (and by the way, honking doesn’t help).

For valet parkers, Shariq also advises to call ahead (even the night before) if you need your car at a specific time on your way to an important appointment, especially when construction is blocking the entry staging/holding spots. When you return, please make sure to leave your keys and wait in the car for the hiker to take it, and let him know if you need the key held at the garage reception. For instance, some hybrid car batteries may get drained when the key fob is left in the car, as happened quite often with my 2010 Prius. If you leave for work at the same time early every morning, let the garage office know and the hikers will stage your car for quick retrieval.

Avoiding mishaps in garage

Incidents can be curbed with just a little attention. For self-parkers, please don’t speed, but honk your horn when coming down the ramp, and turn on your lights – that will avoid 95% of all mishaps. When it comes to damage to another car, like scratches or dents, self-parkers generally deal with each other – if you don’t know the name of the other party, check with the garage or Management Office.

Shariq’s best advice for valet parkers is to check your car before leaving the garage to make sure there’s no new damage – it’s a good idea to take a cell phone photo that records date and time. Once you’re out of the garage, it’s hard to prove where any damage occurred. And, please be honest and let your hiker know if your car got dented or scratched while you were out.

Shariq was happy to tell me that so far there’s been only one damage claim in 2022, and it was processed and approved.

Shariq also advises not to leave any valuables in the car – that’s especially important for valet parkers. And, please don’t forget your food or groceries! A while back, a self-parker kept complaining about a bad smell coming from the neighboring car, with it getting really putrid as more days went by. When the garage office finally reached the owner of the offending car (he’d been out of town), it turned out that he’d left a package of fresh meat under the seat and it had become very ripe after 15-20 days. I’ll bet that’s not the only unsavory thing Shariq has come across, but he was too polite to tell.

Training the staff

Talking about politeness, that’s the most critical attribute Shariq requires of the garage staff, together with patience and the ability to stay calm and composed in stressful situations. He’s a terrific mentor, having experienced pretty much any situation a hiker might come across. I asked what it takes to train new hikers – those 219 valet parkers expect the hikers to know their baby and its location right away! They learn on the job, but first they need to prove their driving and parking skills. Then they’re allowed just to park cars for a while, but not to retrieve them. Once they’ve done enough job shadowing and know many of the valet parkers, they’re generally able to locate cars quickly – and they can always ask their fellow hikers for help.

To conclude his day, Shariq makes sure the shift he’s leaving is under control, with no remaining commitments or appointments for him, and instructions left for whoever is in charge for the next day or night shift. Only then does he lock his office and embark on the long drive home.

As always when I’ve had the privilege to interview a key staff member at Malibu East, I found there’s so much more to the job than meets the eye. There’s really no “typical” day for Shariq, Aisen and the garage crew. They know how to roll with the punches, but they’ll also heave a joint sigh of relief when the current construction phase is over.

Please take extra care to be patient and appreciative of our garage hikers and neighborly to our fellow parkers. It will make Shariq’s life easier, too. Remember – honk when leaving the garage, but not when you’re in a line waiting to get in.