Man, car washes have come a long way since I started in the business back in the mid 90’s. I started in the vacuum bay, it was unreal how bad some people let their cars get, inside and out. From old fries to uses tissues to… well, I’ll let your imagination take it away. Suffice it to say, my hands would be black by the end of the day with dirt and grime. We had to hustle though, couldn’t just take our time vacuuming but you learned some tricks along the way and could do a good job. I moved on to the wash bay where we’d give the cars a good spray down as they mounted the track that would take them through.

Back then the customer waited inside. Back then, I remember looking at the prices and wondering why anyone would pay so much for their car to be washed.

Now? Gone are the days of someone baking in the sun all day taking orders. We’ve got automated machines for that. Sure we have a few people that help man the stations, they’re not idiot-proof if you aren’t a member. If you are a member, you get an RFID chip embedded in a small little sticker and that takes care of everything. No cash, we just get it all on a debit or credit card, easy-peasy. Gone are the days of a high pressure washer prepping it for the wash, we’ve got a person who lightly sprays down the cars with a solution and off it goes on the tracks through the bay.

And here’s the brilliant part. We don’t need crews anymore vaccuming cars or wiping them down. The customer pays us to let them do that themselves! It’s great! We still wash and fold the towels, but they do it. It’s the appeal of choice. Since the towels and vaccums are free, they don’t have to wait around, they can do it now or not. Whatever. No Karen ever comes to complain to me about her SUV, it’s wonderful.

But…let me tell you a little secret… the profit is in the packages.

Yeah, the lower packages limit how many times someone can come in, which is why many opt for the unlimited, just in case they need to wash it more. But it’s not the unlimited access, it’s not the suds or the super clear coat finish. At the end of the day, every customer gets the same exact wash, even though the sign out front says otherwise. In a way, even the people who pay the least do, in fact, get the best wash.

So what are the people paying extra for then, you ask?

A feeling.

The feeling of superiority, of pride and ego.

They got the best wash.

Even when they do half of the work.

So, confession time. I got inspiration for this little piece while in the local car wash that I have a membership with. My first real job was, in fact, working at a car wash in the mid 90’s. I worked all the positions, starting in the vacuum bay. Now, while I don’t think this character’s position is entirely true. I could see how easily it could be given how many of these car washes operate now. If one is focused entirely on profit, we’ve seen how that plays out in almost every business venture. I hope you enjoyed it.

~Tom