Car Wash Zen

Car Wash Zen

Last weekend, I was designated drier at a car wash to raise money for my medical school class. It was fun to master the art of the squeegee, and to figure out the best way to squeak a chamois to get a streak-free sheen. I didn’t bring my boombox and was immediately bummed, because although there was one, it was too far away to hear.

About 40 minutes into my shift, I got the honor of wearing a yellow reflective vest to direct traffic in the parking lot. I realized pretty quickly that nearly nobody wants to be told what to do when they’re driving, especially when driving through a non-confusing situation like a parking lot car wash. Just because I was wearing a vest didn’t make me some kind of deputy, so I needed a plan to get people to listen. I tried using different types of body language, but nothing seemed to work. My casual and laid-back approach was occasionally heeded, but generally ignored.

A more accentuated and theatrical style was fun for me, but I don’t think that the drivers in the parking lot really appreciated all the extra effort that I was putting in to provide entertainment while also telling them how to drive. It didn’t lead to any significant changes in driver obedience, so I decided to give one more movement style a shot: I went for a bold, mechanical and robotic approach of traffic direction, which might have been a mistake because I almost got run over a few times. (I believe that it must have been the vehicles themselves that did not wish to take directions from another machine, because I can’t imagine that the drivers were trying to run me over.)

Ultimately, I settled for a zen approach devoid of emotional attachment. If the drivers were going to listen to my suggestions, I decided that I should be crystal clear in my directions. I dedicated my full will toward recommending people to stop if I perceived it to be necessary. If the drivers weren’t going to pay me any attention, then I decided that I should be ready to adapt and jump out of the way. I vowed to accept their indifference.

This flexibility is what let me survive those hours in the sun. I realized that I was but one flower in a larger garden of many others, each with their own role and destiny. Some were fated to apply bubbles in methodical scrubbing motions, while others were there to spray them away with a hose.

I’m sure we made a big difference in people’s lives that day, as every car that we washed was just a little bit cleaner when it left then when it arrived, and that’s what a car wash is really all about.