Washing Winter Away Splish-Splash: All around town, business owners clean up when drivers arrive with their salt-frosted cars.

March 14, 1996|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

A woman in a white dress, white shoes and white stockings stands at attention near her Honda Prelude. The nurse's white car has just emerged from its shower and drips at her feet.

"I just couldn't take it anymore," says Sheila Kowalewski, who spent seven bucks at the Mr. Wash in Catonsville.

She had to get to a car wash. It was getting embarrassing. Her car looked like it had rolled in chalk and muck. She couldn't see out her windshield anymore. The grit and salt from this 62-inches-of-snow Enough already! record-breaking winter are showing on the bodies of all cars.

Our cars have become the great unwashed.

The time is now to pay up and get in line at the Mr. Wash or Wash Works or Whiz Car Wash or Sparkle Car Wash or the neighborhood Amoco Car Wash. The lines are backing onto the streets, uniformed employees are directing traffic, and in the back offices of these car washes sit some very happy managers. It's cleaning time, boys. It's like tax time for accountants.

Never mind that it's not spring-by-the-calendar. We will will winter away by committing a fundamental act of faith: washing the car. Winter must be washed away; there must be a cleansing of the car and spirit. And the driving public has chosen this week to declare it's safe to wash cars again. "Because I know," says Jane Long, a 35-year-old Baltimorean, "I know it's not going to snow again."

At Wash Works, Ms. Long has waited a crisp 45 minutes to have her beige Honda washed for the first time in six months. She's no fool. Although her car begged and begged her to clean it, "you have to say 'no!' to your car," she says.

She knew what she was doing. Some folks rushed to get their cars washed last week. Then, what happened? Winter laughed last by dumping another 4 inches on Baltimore. Now those cars are lined up on Howard Street near 21st, waiting to creep into the three OPEN lanes and get another $7.95 wash.

Wash Works, like many, promises no brushes. "Brushless" and "Touchless" and "Frictionless" car washing is the rave. "Streakless drying systems" and "soft cloth" rubbing are also promised at the upper-end washes. Then, we have our gas station car washes (discount with gas purchase), where drivers stay in their cars. There is much brushing and touching and friction going on. And at the bottom of the car-wash chain, there's always school kids washing cars for school projects.

Every place is packed.

A man named "Skeeter" directs traffic at Wash Works and hollers they'll have 800 cars today. 800 easy. The Volvo and BMW and Mercedes are having to mix with the GEO and Tercel and Saturn; road salt does not discriminate between the $30,000 and the $13,000 car.

At Mr. Wash on Route 40, Connie Boulware is staring at her red Accord with awe.

"I can't believe it's my car. I can't believe it's my car," she says to herself. A pack of quick-handed men have dried and vacuumed and primped the Accord. They wait for her to get in. But she is frozen. "It's gorgeous." Who's is it?

Finally, she gets in her clean, red car and drives off under clean blue skies. It's a beautiful day to be outside and to play or garden or wash your car. It all smacks of spring.

"Ain't it the truth," says Dr. John Healy, retired from practice. The man's been coming to Mr. Wash for 30 years.

He doesn't wait until winter is history before washing his Town Car. Every time he gets salt on his blue beauty, he parades the car in for a washing. That's a lot of trips, but Dr. Healy is no fool, either. He owns two Town Cars. "I just alternate the cars. I get one clean, then the other."

Three cars down in line, Robin Hayek stands by her Chevy as if she's sitting with her child in the doctor's office. Ms. Hayek is here for a couple of reasonable reasons. Given the veneer of salt on her windshield, she felt it was in her family's best interest to actually see the road while driving. She's funny that way.

"Also, I got it cleaned because my parents are coming to see me."

There's a dirty little truth. It's shameful to be seen in a filthy car. This must mean you don't care about your appearance bet your room is a mess, too. Who raised you? Didn't our parents tell us to keep that car clean, after we begged for years to own our first car? It's the old "you want a dog, you'll have to bathe it" edict. You want a car, you'll have to pay for it and clean it.

"That's my GEO over there. It's dirty, nasty, nasty," says Susan Hundley, 33.

Her GEO, a green stump of a car, is four cars away from entering Mr. Wash's tunnel of brushless washing. She breaks down and confesses thoughtlessness and insensitivity concerning her nasty, nasty car.

"When I was a kid, no matter what you did, you kept your car clean," Ms. Hundley says. "I couldn't go back now to my old neighborhood in D.C. with my car."

Five minutes later, her GEO emerges, so pretty, the happy owner says. The car's true colors are showing again. Both car and owner feel cleansed. It's a new day for them, a brushless, near-spring day.

Pub Date: 3/14/96

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