When I rejoined my side-kick after having had my car washed and detailed this morning, he facetiously asked, “Feel better?” And you know what? I did! You see the thing is that getting my car washed, as much as I have endured considerable raillery about the trifling subject, is nonetheless a matter very dear to my heart. And – I suppose I must confess – it is no small obsession. I won’t say that I am in the grip of it, but it certainly is true that I devote serious attention to the undertaking and it is a project never far off my regular agenda. I am keenly aware of the potential for allegations of hopeless materialism, shallowness and annoying fastidiousness. All true, I have no doubt. But it does not for a tick diminish my enthusiasm.
The late Hughie Whitten observed, “All you need is a clean windshield and a full tank of gas!” It is admittedly a compelling adage. I’m sorry but I’m unable to make that blithely spiritual capitulation. There’s a reason they call it “detailing”. It isn’t the equivalent of “Don’t worry, be happy”. It’s about being picky not abstract generalities. Like it or not, a car is more than just getting from here to there.
When Petro-Canada began offering a 90-day Season Pass card for once-a-day automatic car washes, I was thrilled. And when I subsequently discovered that one of their stations was open 24 hours a day, I began getting my car washed at 4:00 a.m. each morning. Only once did I have to suffer the indignity of waiting in line for another car which was ahead of me! Granted this particular custom was popular when I was a working stiff and couldn’t afford the time during the day to indulge my obsession. It was an added and compensating intellectual benefit that I could take in the BBC World News Service while ferrying myself to and fro.
It might surprise you to learn that for me one of the brighter lights of Hilton Head Island is Island Car Wash on the William Hilton Parkway. In anticipation of our journey here each year I ruminate regularly upon the anticipated delight of getting the car detailed there. The staff do a superb job, including washing the mats and squeezing the water from them through a specialized wringer. They also use a buffing machine to polish the exterior sheet metal. And you can be assured that the plate glass is clean when they have finished the job! The emporium is reminiscent of a spa, well appointed, attractive and comfortable.
A car wash, like a good meal, is not just about the main course. There are appetizers to the delectation. I make a point of having the gas tank filled whenever it is down a quarter of a tank or more. This is something I ensure is done before the wash in the event a drop of gasoline is dripped onto the car when withdrawing the nozzle. It is a faultless indiscretion which can be remedied in the wash. Additionally, if I am getting the car detailed (which means cleaning the inside as well as the outside) I always take the precaution of removing any surplus items from the cabin. An umbrella for example is relocated to the trunk. Superfluous paper work is either stored in a compartment or entirely removed from the car. This experience is very much about the tabula rasa, a daily ritual catharsis.
When I put the car through an automatic wash I have a tiresome ceremony upon completion. The complex arose because I once discovered that some moulding had been removed during the wash. Ever since that event I am fixated upon inspecting the car from stem to stern. I punctuate the phobia by twisting the caps on the air nozzles of the tyres to satisfy myself they are secure. It may of course be necessary to adjust the rearview mirrors and to remove some surplus water, a procedure conducted according to strict practice. A collateral scan of the whole car for possible nicks and scratches is the final part of the checklist. After a personalized detailing I also conduct a general inspection. The Island Car Wash inevitably exceeds the service of any other institution. The competitors fall far short of the absolution bestowed by Island Car Wash.
In the result I have a clean windshield and a full tank of gas. And a whole lot more! It is partly defensible to observe that I am taking care of my “investment” (though I use the term with measured caution). The car wash is an act of purification as much as that denomination may offend the sensibilities of some. It is an experience which uplifts. And yes I DO feel better!