The car wash from beyond


By Jeff Keeling

Perhaps our upcoming road trip to Maine was already affecting my judgment when I maneuvered the lovely and talented Angela’s 2015 Prius V next to one of several pay stations at the most technologically advanced car wash I have ever seen Saturday. Whatever the reason, the “big spender” in me was itching to be set free. I noted the $6 standard wash (the place does offer free vacuums) at the bottom of a dizzying array of choices.

My head was telling me the “low-budget” option was, as our daughter Sydney is fond of remarking about nearly any situation requiring a value judgment, “perfectly adequate.”

My main car wash experiences have involved getting through the good old-fashioned version at West Main and Belmont for about three or four bucks, feeding quarters in as the hand-held wash unit started beeping to me that my minute was running out. Those self-serve wash bays, and the wheezing vacuum cleaners that are lucky to suck down a paper clip without struggling even on a good day, are my idea of a car wash – cheap, tatty and perfectly adequate for someone who has always considered vehicles from almost a purely utilitarian perspective.

But as my rational side prepared to record one of its frequent triumphs, something deep in my amygdala must have been set off by a host of pricier options, all beckoning me with bright colors and cartoon-like illustrations.

More is better! Something told me this, not whispering like a smooth-tongued tempter prepared to lead me step-by-step into perdition with cleverly crafted lies, but simply yelling, “you know you want to” as if I were a 4-year-old sitting in front of a pile of candy.

Or perhaps my romantic side was emerging. I was with my lover and best friend, a few days from embarking on what surely will be a wonderful adventure for just us two. Soon we’d be clearing the car of the grandkids’ carseats, attaching the bike rack and heading northeast with our vacation attire, some good books and the open road ahead.

While visiting Acadia National Park, we’ll celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary and the lovely and talented will crest the ol’ half-century mark. We’ll enjoy a nice dinner on the official anniversary date Friday, Ang looking better than ever in the same dress she wore on that lovely afternoon on Orcas Island in 1996.

Why wouldn’t we want to take such a memorable trip in a vehicle made as clean as modern technology will allow? So I pressed the $20 “manager’s special” pad (Includes Everything!) and immediately knew I’d made the right call. I was getting a $3 discount.

Some young dude in a man bun gave our car a cursory swipe before looking at me as though I needed to be walked down the hall to bingo. I put the window down, “huh?” written all over my middle-aged mug. “Car in neutral, foot off the brake,” he mouthed, pointing to a sign in plain view.

In neutral, foot off the brake is not a standard Prius maneuver, but I did as instructed. The next few minutes were a bit like an amusement park ride. The car, enveloped in a cacophony, moved along jerkily with the steering wheel jumping. All manner of brushes, scrubbers, soaps and rinses alternately pelted, sprinkled, beat and caressed the paint job while we sat helpless inside.

“What if something went awry,” I thought, channeling (sans tears and wailing) the panic that would grip 3-year-old Sydney when we used to take our station wagon through the rattletrap, pre-turn-of-the-century car wash at the corner of Hillcrest and West Market. “One of these metal rods could malfunction and crash through the windshield, impaling me just before a fantastic vacation.”

In the event, we rolled to the Disneyesque finale, a set of soft, rapidly spinning drying cloths that brought to mind some gentle fantasy creature from a world where the only thing at risk of injury is someone’s feelings. Then it was time to put ‘er back in drive, pull into a bay and use a couple of the free vacuums. They were top quality, of course, with suction that could probably pull a forearm of our granddaughter, the spritelike Emmarie, into one of their maws in the blink of an eye.

Maine, we’re coming your way. Watch for the cleanest-looking Prius you’ll ever see.


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