Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Let’s just say my dyslexia kicks in at some of the most inopportune times. The January thaw set in yesterday. The next two days are forecast with temperatures up near forty and bright sunny skies.  As I climbed into the once teal colored Escort for another run of chauffeuring duty I couldn’t avoid the neglected build up of salt and sand turning the Escort a chalky brown, an accurate reflection of my own state of wellbeing. I fantasized if I changed the look of my ride, polished and cleaned it up, maybe my self-image might raise a few degrees as well. It was time for a real cleansing of both my car and my self-worth. I had previously attempted to clean the car on my own using a bucket of water, some windex and a sponge resulting in nothing more than a messy white film smeared all over that beautiful teal finish. The car was looking more like Tammy Faye with big white mascara streaks running down the cheeks of my car.
I had to wait until the car’s fuel gauge was down to empty. The Citgo station across the street gave you a dollar discount on their automated carwash with a twenty-dollar plus purchase of gas. With an eight-gallon tank I had to make sure the tank was down to the fumes only level to make the sawbuck limit. Only then could I pull into the station. I rolled in and parked the car in front of one of the available self-service pumps. Now I had to decide if I should pay at the pump or pay inside. Too embarrassed to admit I couldn’t figure out the gas plus car wash payment procedure I let the butch part of my personality kick in. I told myself I could figure this out without having to go inside and plead ignorance. I pumped away hoping the machine would let me off the hook and prompt me on how to add the carwash to the gas purchase. Then I hoped the tank wouldn’t top out before I hit twenty-dollars in gas. Total gas: $22.37. Success…and then nothing. Did I screw up? My confidence was waning, but then all of a sudden the LCD said, “CARWASH?” I caught a break and almost smashed the “YES” button. My receipt printed out with my carwash code, “4-0-9-9-9”. Now I had to drive around to the carwash entrance located behind the oil changing bays.
A black BMW already looking as if it had been washed and polished zipped into the queue ahead of me. The driver pushed the automatic release on his faux wood paneled console, stuck his hand out his window as the descending tinted glass slowly revealed his face smiling a sarcastic sneer as he loaded the payment kiosk from a wad of bills. I tried my best to counter with a look of nonchalance and a furrowed brow. The door to the automated wash rose and the BMW disappeared into the whoosh of spraying jets.
It was my turn to drive up to the kiosk and punch in my code, but the BMW had flustered me and I forgot to undo my seatbelt making it almost impossible to get to my wallet where I had stashed the receipt with the code. The car jerked ahead as I fumbled with the seatbelt. Finally free of my auto bondage I was able to dig out my wallet. Now I had allowed the car to overshoot the kiosk so I had to backtrack maneuvering the car to a place where I could reach the keypad and punch in my code. All this fumbling was eating away at the precious time I would need to read the posted instructions. Another car had pulled in behind me so any opportunity of taking my time had been eliminated. I set my wallet in my lap and punched in the code, “4-0-9-9-9”. Then it was a mad dash to memorize the instructions.
  1. Enter code, bills or quarters. Done
  2. Drive slowly into wash bay when green light comes on. Oh shit, where’s the green light
  3. Stop when red light comes on. If I have to memorize more than three steps I’m going to be lost
  4. Put the car in park position. After this point I was gone
  5. When green go light comes on exit slowly. I’m finished
  6. Thank you and come again. I’m shaking now as I try to review each step and cement it in my memory bank
Bang. The garage door to the wash starts to open and the green go light on the outside of the wash comes on. I shift into drive and start heading in. Whoosh. Side sprays spew out a stream of soapy water blinding my view. I turn on the wipers fearing a crash and stomp on the breaks. Now I can see, but the new light panel inside the wash has four signs: red- stop, green – go, yellow – back-up, and white – park. None of them are lit. Here’s where the panic starts to immobilize me. I’m afraid to move and the door I just entered through is starting its slow close. Then the big garage door thuds to a closed position behind me. I’m locked in and still no light telling me what to do. Then everything stops. Now I’m sweating in the stillness as nothing is moving. I haven’t even gotten to three on the instruction list, let alone four, five and six. Not knowing what else to do I throw the car into park thinking if I progress to what I thought was the next step the car would some how tell the carwash what to do, not on your life. Claustrophobia is now getting the best of me. Why won’t a light come on telling me what to do? I decide to shift back into to drive and pull the car up a little further hoping it will trigger something. I pass the unlit light panel and still nothing. Now going against all common sense I back up hoping this will help. As I back up it occurs to me that there is a set of bumps in the floor that I have now crossed going both back-and-forth or forth-and-back. As many times as I maneuver over the bumps the silence continues and I'm still locked in my cell. There’s nothing else I can do but get out and hope I can scare up some help. I did a quick scan for a help button but all I see is that the front half of my car is covered in soap and the back is still caked in sand and smeared with the white streaks from my unsuccessful self-cleaning attempt. Then there it is, the buttons beside the exit door marked open and close. Without any hesitation or forethought I slam my hand on the open button. A very short-lived sigh of relief escapes my mouth a fraction of a second before the blow dryer blasts me from both sides and spins me to the floor. I crawl back to the car, my hair blown into a punk rock doo and my face temporarily stretched into one of those g-force contortions. My car and I limp out into the sun both looking like wounded revelers from some nasty Will Farrell movie. Yet not defeated to the point of submission and thinking there must have been something wrong with the wash I pull over to the oil changing bays to ask the attendant what went wrong. I look for my receipt so I can prove I legitimately had paid for entrance to the wash and surely my appearance and the appearance of the car would indicate the truth of the matter. I slip my hand into my back pocket and oh, oh, I can’t find my wallet. My head jerks back to the closed exit door of the carwash that is now leaking steam from the new wash job going on to the car that was behind me. My wallet, the flashback begins rewinding in my mind in slow motion. I saw myself from above, like in a dream, getting out of the car the wallet in my lap tumbling out onto the wet and soapy floor. OMG!
The attendant walks out from the oil change garage wiping his hands on an already grease coated rag.
“Looks like you had a fight with the carwash.”
“I think the carwash won. It took my wallet, left me with a half-cleaned car and now I look like Gary Busey’s mug shot.” The stereotype of the grease monkey and the city slicker was never more real than in that moment.
With an air of superiority he retrieved my sopping wallet, took me around to the entrance, punched in a new code and explained how you need to pull up to where your front tires rest in the valley between the floor bumps to activate the full wash. He shook his head and grinned the exact way you would expect him to…and I deserved it.

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