Let me assure you I am a competent and able senior citizen. I don’t complain about social media, love my computer, and even drive on the beltway. Therefore, it is very annoying when I find myself in a predicament that suggests I may be losing it.
On a sunny morning, I made the simple decision to purchase a car wash at the local gas station. Believe me, I have purchased car washes many times before and am competent in those situations.
It’s especially fun when I have my grandchildren along, and they like to sit enclosed in the car, squealing, while the sudsing and rinsing goes on around them. This, however, was my first experience at this particular car wash.
The problem began at the outside kiosk where you enter your code. I selected the “Ultimate” car wash, because I wanted the underbody flush. (There, that proves I knew what I was doing.) The Ultimate also included a wax, and was $2.00 less than the Primo car wash, so it was a bargain. Well, the voice inside the box began giving me instructions, but was so garbled and distorted it was incomprehensible. Never mind, the door opened and I, with my vast experience, anticipated no difficulty.
Carefully and expertly, I drove in between the two tracks, because everyone knows the tracks on the sides are for the equipment to go back and forth. The green light in front of me advised, “Drive Forward.” So I continued to drive forward. I encountered a barrier. Well, this is no big deal, because often in car washes you have to give a little gas and get your wheels properly aligned. So I gave a little gas and proceeded to go up, up, up about six inches and then came down with a Clunk. “Clunk” is not what you want to hear in a car wash.
I opened the door and got out, to see what was going on. My left driver’s wheel had gone over a curb-sized metal barrier and, frankly, it did not look good. Somehow, I was now in the car wash at an unfamiliar angle. Instead of facing the exit door, I was somewhat aimed toward the side wall and the “Drive forward” sign, which was now blinking “Back up.” Being a savvy senior citizen, I knew it would not be a good idea to rev the engine in reverse and repeat the over-the-barrier-and-then-clunk process.
Near the car wash entrance, a middle-aged, uniformed employee was taking a cigarette break. Walking out to him in what I hoped was a dignified manner, I stated the obvious: “I need help.”
He glanced up at me and I saw myself in his eyes, a panicky gray-haired woman who had done God Knows What in the car wash. From me, his eyes moved quickly to the interior of the wash and he saw my car was somewhat sideways in the boxy interior. “Oh, boy,” he said, stamping out his cigarette.
I showed him how I had driven over the metal object, which I can only assume was supposed to be a guide to keep the car straight. It was obviously a very inferior design to most other car washes.
“It made a “clunk” sound when I drove over it,” I offered.
“Was it a loud “clunk?” he asked, blowing out his breath.
I nodded, hating to speak the words out loud.
“Boy, I sure hope your axel isn’t hung up on that,” he commented.
At my helper’s direction, I got back in the car, lowered my window, and we began maneuvering my car around the metal obstacle. He reached in the window and turned the wheels as far to the left as they would go. There was a period of backing up slowly, him turning the wheels again, and then more backing up slowly. Meanwhile, the annoying sign alternated blinking “Drive forward,” and screaming “Back up!” At last, the car was restored to the proper position.
As the car wash finally began, my Good Samaritan yelled at me to close the window. “You’re gonna get wet!” A few suds landed in my lap as I hurriedly closed the window.
At last I received the Ultimate car wash. Ultimate has another meaning, too: It means “last.” And it’s the last time I am going to that particular wash.
(This essay was previously published in the February 2015 issue of “Senior Review.”)