A Bad Day With A Camera

Wash Day

Vlad the Impala was running on fumes and there wasn’t a single car in the queue for the car wash, so it seemed like a good time to give the Dirty Boi a bath along with filling his tank. I topped him up with premium and hit the option for the premium car wash as well. When I rolled into the lane for the automated wash I discovered four cars ahead of me.

Waiting my turn in the queue, Strathmore, Alberta, 2024-02-20

Bugger. It never fails, right? I waited patiently (for me) until I got up to the number pad to punch in the wash code, at which point I got the symbol to wait and eventually another to go. Is it just me, or does the increasing number of pictograph symbols on everything also lead you to think the general population is becoming increasingly illiterate?

You stay right there, mister, Strathmore,
Alberta, 2024-02-20
Please proceed, Strathmore,
Alberta, 2024-02-20

Car washes have sure changed over the years. This one is fully modern with the latest bells and whistles while being completely touchless. I vividly remember the very first automatic car wash I went through because it was a Thing of Wonder. All those mechanical robot-like things swinging out of nowhere to scrub, rub, and clean the car were almost straight out of a sci-fi TV show. I also remember it because it damaged mom’s brand new car and I had never seen her that angry before in my young life.

Car washes were not touchless half a century ago. You also didn’t drive through them yourself. You would roll up to a predetermined spot and the attendant would tell you to stop. He would then walk over and tell you to put your foot on your brake and then shift the vehicle into neutral. There was a motorized conveyor chain that ran the length of the wash bay. The attendant would hook a short chain to the underside of your front bumper and then hook the other end of that chain to the automated chain conveyor that pulled you through the wash at a crawl.

Proceed slowly, Strathmore, Alberta, 2024-02-20

As your car was pulled through the wash you would go through a series of roller brushes that swung out to clean the front, back, sides, and roof of your vehicle. They could also clean the radio antenna (remember those?) right off a brand new 1974 Toyota Corona. I also remember a huge bar holding long cloth (canvas?) strips that would agitate back and forth and drag them across and along your vehicle.

Pre-rinse, Strathmore,
Alberta, 2024-02-20
Dem sudz, Strathmore,
Alberta, 2024-02-20

The problem with the mechanical cleaning process used by the old school car washes was that the initial rinse when you came into the wash – usually helped out by a young fellow on each side with a spray gun – didn’t get enough dirt off. The rolling brushes and mechanically agitated cloth strips would grind whatever sediment was left on your vehicle into the paint job, making a mess of it. This was the biggest reason washes went touchless. Further refinements also made former car wash attendants jobless. Progress!

Touchless power scrub, Strathmore,
Alberta, 2024-02-20
Spot free rinse, Strathmore,
Alberta, 2024-02-20

The old-school chain conveyor would eventually pull you through the air dryer once the washing and waxing processes were done. I remember it didn’t do a very good job, but it was an excuse to go for a cruise on the highway after to finish drying the vehicle off. I have some good memories about that, especially if I talked Mom into drying the Corona off at an A&W drive-in with a root beer float.

On the clock, Strathmore, Alberta, 2024-02-20

Today’s automated dryers aren’t much better, although the onus is now on the driver to go through slowly enough, and before the clock runs out. There is no chain conveyor these days and no one to unhook you once you exit the other side of the wash. I think the tow chain normally dropped off the bumper on its own, but sometimes failed to and an attendant had to clear you to proceed. I’m told some people tried to drive off without being unhooked from the conveyor and that was an expensive mistake.

Vlad the Impala after a bath, Strathmore, Alberta, 2024-02-20

People of my generation and the ones before mine will often sit around and bitch loudly about how a lot of today’s stuff isn’t as good as what we grew up with. Our old car washes cleaned better than your fancy new touchless ones, you snot-nosed punks! That piece only got knocked off your crappy car because you were dumb enough to buy a Japanese tin can, so there! And get off my lawn!

Well, sometimes it’s true that older is better because I miss A&W drive-ins, the drive-thrus are nowhere near as fun. Even worse, A&W no longer sells root beer floats (assholes). But I have to tell you that it’s been decades since I heard someone complain about a car wash damaging their paint job or straight-up ripping parts off their car.

Note: Today’s images are supplied courtesy of a Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra mobile phone. I am pleased to report that it was not damaged by the car wash.

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© 2024 Sean D. McCormick

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