Pondering the birds and their carwash membership schemes
I went to the car wash for the first time in a long time, so long that my car looked like it had traveled cross-country through the Amazon.
It’s bird migration season and hundreds of birds are fouling the neighborhood, so I decided to treat my old Toyota to a wash because I firmly believe that all of us — humans, pets and cars — should get washed once in a while.
My spouse and I have different views on washing. To her, cleanliness (even car cleanliness) is next to godliness. She grew up in a family that took pride in clean cars. Her uncle owned a hand car wash, not one of those automated operations with lasers and the kind of technology you’ll find on nuclear submarines. It was a different era. His was a G-rated family car wash, before the invention of the R-rated bikini car wash, which inspires a lot of guys to have their cars sponged down even when they aren’t dirty ... although their minds are.
Back in the muscle car days, men spent Sunday afternoon washing their cars, caressing Chevies, Dodges and Pontiacs with towels and wax applicators. The cars got more attention than their girlfriends and wives.
There was a methodology to washing your car. You had to have the right soap, sponges, cheese cloth, Windex and tar remover. For those who weren’t faint of heart, the ritual culminated in a hand wax that took several hours, if not days, and made your arm sorer than pitching nine innings in a Major League playoff.
The car wash is an American institution, ranking right up there with the bake sale as a fundraiser for schools, youth soccer and cheerleaders.
I prefer a car wash with those huge revolving brushes that take the grime, and paint, off the body. It’s like using Brillo to scrub your face.
In the olden days, I’d drive up, ask for a basic wash and hand the guy $5, but times have changed. A smiling attendant recently greeted me with a very aggressive sales pitch. I was surprised to learn they have more packages to choose from than my financial planner, and they’re about as confusing as Medicare supplemental health plans.
For five minutes, the attendant, who probably sold Amway or Florida timeshares in his previous life, made me listen to what I’d get if I bought the premium lifetime membership.
“Are you getting paid by commission?” I asked. Even though I wanted to blow him off, I pretended to listen because I’ve always been a people-pleaser.
In excruciating detail, he explained how I could have my car washed every single day, even on national holidays, and it would be cleaner than me and my dog. “UNLIMITED” was the key word here, but UNLIMITED isn’t in the vocabulary of a guy who washes his car every six months.
It was like a lifetime gym membership or being hoodwinked into a self-renewing magazine subscription that you never stop paying for — even after you’re dead.
This entitled my car to the gold standard Simoniz Hot Wax and Shine, tire cleaning, under body wash, over body wash, wheel cleansing, tire buffing and anti-bug applications. After I read the brochure, including the fine print, I came to the conclusion that the program offered absolutely everything ... except bikinis. All I had to do was give them my debit card number so they could access my bank account. To cancel, I would need a note from my wife.
“This is impressive, but can I just get a basic wash?” I said. A look of sadness came over the fellow’s face.
It cost $10. I felt like a guy who just bought bleacher tickets at Yankee Stadium for his family and couldn’t afford to buy the kids hot dogs unless he took out a home equity loan.
A day later, the birds were at it again, and I needed to go back, which made me wonder: Were they working on commission too?
Joe Pisani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.