In all my years (years, that’s like forever in Internet land) writing Sunshine Jen in LA, I have never written about a place where Angelenos really come together. I speak of the car wash.
When I first moved to Los Angeles, my car had a layer of desert dust and dustbowl grit. I figured the rain would wash it all away. Then, I discovered, it doesn’t rain in LA very often. The continuous sunshine was great for my seasonal depression and overall mental health but not good for natural car cleaning. However, everyone out here drove sparkly cars.
I had just come from Cleveland where people had dust on their cars because they were tough, they were hearty, they were Midwestern. They didn’t need no stinking wax. They stood with arms folded and cars dirty to face another winter of road salt, underbelly corrosion, and mediocre football.
Unlike Cleveland, LA was all about the waxing, the polish, the shine. Otherwise, what would the tourists look at? Movie Stars? Hah! No such thing.
Realizing that I needed to wash my American made chariot, I went to the do-it-yourself car wash down the street. Armed with a jar full of quarters, I parked my ride in a washing bank. It was wide open on each end with tile walls on each side. The ceiling was high, and there was a brush and a water sprayer that shot out water like a gun. After dropping a few quarters into the machine, I scrubbed, rinsed, and spot-free rinsed my happy vehicle. When I was done washing, I squinted through my drop laden windshield and drove into a drying/vacuum area.
As I wiped down my car with an old rag, I realized that the drying area was where the character of car owners came out. Men, who wouldn’t normally show such public displays of affection, wiped down their cars with such love that poetry could be written about them. They wiped down every crevice and every little rim. They had crates filled with cleaning supplies. They sprayed and wiped in clockwise motion. The women were usually the meticulous vacuumers. They shifted seats and even vacuumed the backs of seats. I didn’t vacuum or dry too meticulously, but when I was done, my car was shiny enough to play with the other cars.
After about a year, I grew lazy with the do-it-yourself car wash and discovered the five dollar express wash. It was a drive-through car wash, so I didn’t even have to get out of my car. I’d line the tires up with the conveyer belt, put the baby in neutral, and watch the scrubbing brushes descend on me. It wasn’t a bad show for five bucks. I was attacked by soap, scraped by the big rubber flappy things, and led through a forest of shifting plastic strips. At the end, four guys with damp rags wiped down my car, and one guy handed me a coupon for next time. Once I got out of neutral, I was on my way.
Awhile ago, I decided to splurge and go to a full-on car wash (aka the car spa). A bunch of guys vacuumed and washed my car while I sat under a canopy and watched Judge Judy (what is it with car places and Judge Judy, she’s like Our Lady of The Car Washers). My car got pampered, massaged, and cleansed while I listened to dumbasses sue each other. Thank God for Judge Judy, otherwise, where would the dumbasses go?
The guys did a good job on my car, but I always felt weird at the car spa. Even though I was surrounded by a wide range of car owners, I couldn’t help but feel a little like god damn royalty. Ahhh yes, the wax is running well today. As I watched an old lady inspect every centimeter of her champagne (aka beige) Lexus while a car spa worker looked on, I prayed to the Suds Gods that would never become her. I mean, it’s a car, how perfect can it be?
About a year ago, I started going back to the do-it-yourself car wash. As I rinsed the soap off with a high intensity water gun, I thought, yes, this is right. Maybe in LA, the city that’s more freeway than city, the place where we do come together is the car wash. It’s only a matter of finding the car wash that is right for you.