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A Conversation With Charles Hickerson

Charles Hickerson of the Hill District runs Elegance Valet Service, which staffs bathroom valets for nightclub rest rooms. Hickerson and his partner, Charles Patrick, have a staff of 20 who supply toiletries and service for the clubs' patrons.

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What are some of the amenities you provide?

People always spill drinks on themselves -- I carry spot remover. People cut themselves, I have Band-Aids. Alcohol and accidents go together. Breath freshener -- that's extremely important. Girls don't want to be talking to guys with funky breath. Men don't carry a purse. They don't carry cologne, so it's nice to know they can go to the bathroom and freshen up with cologne. They come in, they get gum, a cigarette and a shot of cologne, then they're out the door. We provide a very useful service for people who are out partying, having a good time, trying to get laid.

 

How often do you get requests for condoms?

Well, not frequently. If you're working at an after-hours joint ... they want condoms. If you're at a place like Bar Louie, a lot of requests for those are for bridal parties. In the tradition, the brides-to-be go on a scavenger hunt so one of the things in those hunts are always condoms.

 

How'd you get into this business?

I was working as a supervisor at Time/Life [telemarketing services]. I spent seven years there. My oldest daughter's mom came down with a stroke. I was paying child support on three other children. By the time child support got done with me, my paycheck was decimated. I didn't have enough money to really get adequate housing. I was living in the YMCA. My buddy at Time/Life was trying to get me to do this for the longest time because he thought I'd be perfect for it. I thought it was not befitting to my position as supervisor at one of the leading telemarketing firms in the country. I had to make some extra dough quickly. Next thing you know it took off and it allowed me to take care of me and my daughter.

 

How do you train people for this?

We train people to do this and we make them adhere to a certain standard of conduct, behavior and appearance and how to respond to customers. The customers who are new to seeing a bathroom valet, you get a lot of rude people. You get people who want to use your stuff and not leave a gratuity. They think it's complimentary. When you bring it to their attention they often cop an attitude. You get a lot of drunk people, people querying you about how much you make, people throwing up or doing drugs.

 

We advertise that we protect an owner's establishment from vandalism and destruction. We teach people not to solicit for tips because that's in very bad taste. We don't condone people using knock-off colognes. We want our people using designer colognes. We buy everything. I've got about $800 worth of cologne. And I've had several bottles of cologne stolen from me, so at $50 a bottle you're taking a big hit.

 

What's the weirdest tip you've gotten?

Somebody gave me a bottle of wine once. People are always offering me weed. People are always offering me jobs. People frequently want to take pictures with me. Men are always grabbing their ladies pulling them into the men's room just to look at me because they're usually so awestruck by my dreads and my braids.

 

How long have you been growing your hair?

Seventeen years. I often say that I didn't grow my hair, my hair grew me. It has become a trademark with me, expressing my individuality and what I stand for, which is basically freedom.

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