By Dennis Minich
It was almost a weekly occurrence growing up, that Dad would find some innovation or technological note in the newspaper that he felt obliged to share with the whole family. For example, I remember when he first read about TV that you had to pay for. Having grown up with four channels in glorious black and white, I couldn’t imagine how you would pay for TV. I imagined something like a vending machine on the top of the video box that you would feed quarters into so you could watch a show. Lo and behold, there were such devices, but they had nothing to do with television and certainly served no purpose in the home.
The pay TV of course, turned out to be cable and was indeed television you paid for. Ironically, as the years have gone by, more TV channels have been added, but I still seem to concentrate most of my time on those same four channels, although the grayscale hue has given way to color.
I think one of the technological advances which struck Dad and me, was the idea you could go someplace, put money in a machine, take out a wand and wash your car. I mean you could wash your car with-out a bucket or sponges or the garden hose? I remember Dad saying, “And you can wash your car, even in a suit, because you don’t get wet.” Now that was a prospect that seemed seriously beyond belief (and eventually was proven untrue.) It’s hard to believe there was a time when car washes were not around, maybe it was how they measured time, like the B.C. stands for “before car washes.”
Sadly, the convenience of the self-service car wash gave way to more and more conveniences like self-service gas pumps and self-checkout lanes in stores. There are times I really miss the old simpler ways, where someone was there to help you every step of the way. Sunday was one of those days.
I needed to pick up a few things at the store, which I won’t name, oh well, why not? I needed to pick up a few things at Walmart. I told Leslie I was going and in addition to adding about twice as many things to my list, she asked if I would wash her car while I was out. As I got to the store, I realized I didn’t have any cash on me. For a shopping trip, that’s no big deal, I am modern enough to handle a debit card, but the car wash would be different. I really don’t like using cards at such places. But it was really no big deal because I could just get cash off the debit card at the end of the transaction. I normally opt to use a check out with a person, but for some reason I decided it would be just as easy with the self-checkout. After scanning my items, it gave me my total and asked if I wanted cash back. Since I did, I said yes. I only wanted $5, but the lowest offer was $20 so I took it.
The modern contraption gave me a $20 bill. The machine doesn’t break bills and the clerk said there was no way to make change, so I went to the service desk. There, the adventure began. I was told they couldn’t make change. They were not allowed to open a register unless a transaction of some kind was being made. I knew I didn’t want to take a $20 bill to the carwash, because your change comes in tokens or quarters. I needed $20 of neither. Quick on my feet, (or in my case, slow on my fee) I headed back to the self-checkout and bought a candy bar, inserted $20, got $18.94 back and a treat as well.
As I approached the car wash, there was a line almost back to the street. I was pondering the wait, but realized all of the cars waiting were for the automatic, meaning there was no wait for the good old-fashioned washing wand. I pulled in and went for change. Unfortunately, both the machine for quarters and the machine for tokens were not working. I came close to pulling out the debit card, but remembered another car wash over near our house. I drove there. I pulled in behind another driver who had left the first washery. Unfortunately, he was having trouble securing quarters once again. Finally, he succeeded, so I pulled into the first in line waiting position and got out to get my change while the car in the bay got its final rinse. Getting change was not just a job, it was an adventure.
I put in ones and fives, facing different directions, straightening out the bills, tenderly speaking kind words and after about 15 attempts, it took my first dollar. Beaming with pride, I began a second round with yet another bill. When I finally had my $5 in quarters, I stepped toward my car, but as I approached it, a driver pulled his car directly past my spot in line and went into the bay. He then got out and went to get his change. I will end the story by saying I washed Leslie’s car, decided to do mine and just as I was about done, the timer ran out and I was 25 cents short, so I had to head back to the changer, which still wouldn’t take a $1 bill, but quickly snapped up a five. In the end I had two clean cars, $4.75 in quarters and a really bad attitude.
So much for innovation and convenience. My demeanor would have been much rosier had I simply got out a bucket, a sponge and the garden hose and given the cars a good scrub at home. And chances are, my clothes wouldn’t have been any wetter.