Skip to main content
Welcome to
super saver spring
offer ends april 20
save over $140
save over 85%
$0.99
per week for 24 weeks
Welcome to
super saver spring
$0.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

I was at the service station a while back. It was a rare sunny day and the place was bustling. Folks were busy buying doughnuts to consume and gum that promised extra long freshness that would chase away the odour left behind by the doughnuts. Then a customer barged through the doors looking agitated.

"You have to do something about this," he told the attendant. "Look what that thing did!"

"That thing" was the station's automatic car wash. "What it did" was smear a grey stripe along the side of the guy's Lexus. It looked like someone had dipped a paint brush in a can marked "crap" and applied a nice thick stroke.

Story continues below advertisement

Now, the word "wash" conjures up images of something dirty being made clean. Through the application of soap and warm water, dirt is removed. If, however, you place the word "car" in front of wash it takes on a whole new meaning. Mister Lexus was grappling with this reality. He had driven his car into a car wash and expected it to come out, if not totally clean, at least less dirty. This had not occurred.

"That wasn't there when I went into that thing," he said, his voice growing shrill. "Look! Look! It sprayed dirt all over the side of my car."

The attendant gave him a patented gas station shrug. How do you fix car wash error? Have the guy drive through again and get a matching grey stripe on the other side of his car? Finally, after much shouting and shrugging, Mister Lexus got a refund; but he was now going to have to go to another car wash or go home, put on his Daisy Duke cut-offs and tube top, crank up the Lynyrd Skynyrd and wash it himself by hand.

This little bit of street theatre hit me. Charles Foster Kane grew weepy over a - spoiler alert - sled. I get sentimental over car washing.

When the summer months arrive, they conjure up images of happy scenes shot at high speed in soft focus on grainy 1970s film stock. My brother and I, a bucket, a bottle of Turtle Wax and a garden hose with my father, sponge in one hand, cigarette in the other, killing a few hours in the driveway.

You don't see that too much any more. Instead, we have the automatic car wash. In the winter, these are a necessity. Vehicles are so caked with salt and dirt they require regular washing. The clean is short-lived - generally one gets three blocks and is creamed by a wave of clean-obliterating slush. Yet, even when you eliminate Mother Nature's vagaries, the modern-day car wash still leaves much to be desired. The only thing getting thoroughly cleaned is your wallet. It starts at the fuel pump where you are enticed with some special offer: "Buy $307 worth of gas and receive $1 off your car wash."

If you don't want a wash, the pump becomes passive aggressive. "Would you like a car wash?" No. "Are you sure you don't want a car wash?" Yes. "Really?" Yes. "Okay, it's your car - I'm just saying."

Story continues below advertisement

Once you've been strong-armed by a touch screen, you get to "customize" your wash. The options start off normal - "Basic Wash" - but grow increasingly risqué. First, it's "The Works" but then it feels like you're ordering weird acts at a massage parlour: "Bottom Blast," "Crystal Polish," "Undercarriage Flushing."

Then you drive to the entrance, put your car in neutral and have it pulled through the wash as mechanical pumps shoot white frothy foam at you. It's surreal.

The "touchless" car wash promises not to harm your car's exterior but they are anxiety-producing. You're on a clock and, when it's over, you have to drive your car through a dryer while a timer clicks down. I always end up with a very dry front and a damp rear.

The best bet for those who don't want to pay $50 at a posh "hand-wash" are the self-serve joints you find in the suburbs. For a fistful of loonies, you get to play with soap-spraying nozzles and big fuzzy brushes. If you have kids and drive a junk-encrusted minivan, your best bet is to hire the same crews that clean up crime scenes. It's the only way your automobile will ever come close to that new-car clean.

It's the Californians who get the car wash right. Last time, I was in San Jose, I went to Classic Carwash on the Almaden Expressway. It's a car-wash Nirvana. For starters, the place is built like a steamboat. The service is fast and friendly. Your car leaves clean. Classic Carwash has a gift shop offering items ranging from spooky china to Californian wine. The best part? They have a pond filled with catfish. You buy some pellets and, as you wait for your car, you can feed fish. That, my friends, is a car wash. But that's California.

So, this summer I'm swearing off the car wash. You'll find me in the driveway with my kids, a bucket and a hose; sponge in one hand, lemonade in the other, Turtle Wax at my side. And so we buff on, cloth against the clear coat, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Story continues below advertisement

*****

Follow Andrew Clark on Twitter: @aclarkcomedy

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies