We are Mud Season refugees. We point the car South and set off in search of anything green, or a robin red breast or … gasp … a daffodil. We cross the state line into Virginia when my wife says “You know, we could probably stand to wash the car.”
There are two theories on this in Vermont. One is that cars should be kept clean in Vermont during the winter, because that keeps them salt and mud-free and that will prolong a car’s life. The second theory is that the worst thing you can do to a car during the winter in Vermont is to wash it, because the caked on mud forms a protective shell that keeps the salt and moisture away from the vehicle’s frame. These are two groups with equal and opposite world views, think Israelis/Palestinians, cowboys/Indians, Yankees/Red Sox. The sole area of shared belief is that Vermont winters are tougher-than-hell on cars.
“Rain washes cars,” I reply, a lame excuse that I’ve heard a hundred times in Vermont. My wife shoots me a look that states the obvious, that we are not in Vermont any more. Alright, alright, alright. I cave quickly, not wanting a ten buck car wash to interfere with our southern sojourn. A quick Google later we exit the Interstate and Siri, or one of those bot-babes, is telling us how to get to the SuperSuds Carwash.
Will “bot-babes” get me in trouble with the Me-Too police?
The only carwash (is it one word or two?) in our town is Ed’s, a two-bay do-it-yourselfer where you dump a handful of quarters into a box on the wall, then the pressurized water starts coming out the triggered hose “gun” attached to a swivel on the ceiling. Works ok, except in the winter when ice can accumulate on the floor, making the carwash a life-threatening experience. It’s so low-tech that a monkey can manage it (no offense, Silverbacks)!.
We pull into the SuperSuds Carwash, and it’s the most awe-inspiring example I’ve seen of human architectural achievement since … Here, I would like to insert “the Taj Mahal,” but I’ve never been there, so how about “Fenway Park?” There are four lines of cars funneling into two automated bays. Orchestrating the flow is a young women and a barrage of signage promoting various options for different levels and types of carwashes. As best I can tell, there is the Basic for $15.99, the Basic plus underwear wax for $19.99, the Basic plus manicure/pedicure for $29.99, the SuperSize, BOGO two-for-one at $39.99, and the Around-the-World BOGO/FOMO special for $49.99.
The line moves forward. In reality is inching, but to me it feels like cascading. The young lady, looking very official with her clipboard, comes to the window. “Basic,” I blurt, but the poor girl apparently doesn’t speak English, she speaks Southern. “Y’all blah-blah-blubbedy?” she says. I do catch the question mark. “Basic!” I re-blurt, maybe a little too loud. “Blubbedy blah-blah Y’all” she says, taking my credit card and handing us a receipt.
We enter the chute and are linked to the conveyor. Green light! I always enjoy this part of the experience. It starts with a gentle sprinkle, but then it accelerates like Han Solo taking the Millennium Falcon into hyperspace. It crescendos with the giant, sudsy brushes devouring the windshield. By this point I am screaming and putting up my arms to save me from impending death. Then, as with all good movies, the danger passes as we advance through the rinser, the dryer, and emerge into the sunlight, better for the experience. We are saved. Little do I know, our nightmare is just beginning …
We follow the signage to the vacuum area, which is gated with a sign that “To Raise Gate, Scan Barcode Here.” I pull out my receipt from my pocket. There … is … no … barcode. The four most-dreaded words in the English language. I check the back of the receipt. I check the edges. THERE IS NO BARCODE! Already several cars are backed up behind us at the vacuum area gate. I babble, I drool, I freeze.
My wife, Silverbelle Sandy, recognizes the dire circumstances and leaps into action, hopping out of the car to direct traffic. In addition to her beauty and her unrivaled competence as a homemaker, Sandy loves three things in the world the best: frozen yogurt, building campfires, and directing traffic. Even without a uniform or whistle she is instantly in complete command, using a symphony of hand signals to move vehicles as if she has a magic wand.
Soon I am extricated and waved into a second, larger bay where entire vehicles are loaded onto conveyors where minions of workers buff and polish to a gleam. It seems that the girl out front, who spoke no English, misunderstood my blurted “Basic” to mean “Give me the full spit and polish, ’round the world, tangerine flake, streamlined detailing, Darlin’!”
It took a few minutes, but we (by which I mean “no thanks to me”) got it straightened out. Sandy hands me the new receipt, pointing specifically to the barcode, and speaking as if to a small child. “You go to the vacuum area. I’ll meet you there, but first I need to use the rest room.” Well, so do I! Three cups of coffee on top of three hours in the car have taken their toll, but I guess I can manage it. She heads to the adjacent waiting area which looks like the private luxury lounges guarded by armed guards that you see in airports. There, from the comfort of your leather chair, you can observe the little people scurrying about to make your vehicle worthy of you. The area also features a snack bar/frozen yogurt shop that looks as if can qualify for a couple of Michelin stars. Frozen yogurt … I might just have a surprise for the little lady before we hit the highway again.
I breath a sign of relief when my barcode is deemed acceptable by the little man inside the box controlling the gate to the vacuum area, and I pull into a vacant bay. Again, this is not like the comparable area at Ed’s where you insert a quarter for five minutes of anemic suction. Have you heard the phrase “50 shades of grey?” It refers to the vacuum cleaner hose at Ed’s, whose utility has been extended by decades of duct tape bandaids.
There is a machine that cleans floor mats … what’ll they think of next? Talk about the wonders of technology! … and a shop rag dispenser with instructions that require an advanced degree This is life in the fast lane.
Bladder now bursting, I get to work. Our car is loaded with luggage, and even just two days into our road trip, it is littered with detritus from peanut butter crackers, candy bars, water bottles and other essentials of travel. I begin feeding floormats through the machine and wrestling with the luggage. Jeez … it’s been a while since this car’s interior has been cleaned. It’s not as easy reaching the nooks and crannies of this car, especially working around all this luggage. This job would go a lot faster with two, or with an empty bladder. Time for another floormat. Where’s Sandy? Why do we need six goddamn floormats in this car? Oh, there’s CD that I lost in 2017. Let’s see … dirty cloths on the left, or right?
Now, I’m on my knees, contorting my body to reach that spot under the gas pedal. I hear Sandy’s voice. “You should check out the customer lounge. It’s amazing.” I extract myself in time to see her polishing off a bucket of frozen yogurt. “They even sell frozen yogurt” she adds, tossing empty cup into the trash can next the the floor mat cleaning machine.
“I can see that,” muttered I, thinking that maybe I will talk to Ed about a new business venture.