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Jules Molenda: The traveler’s blues smell like Thanksgiving

Jules Molenda

The traveler left mid-Missouri at six o clock on a winter evening. He drove through the night and arrived in Buffalo, N.Y., grainy but game, at mid-morning the next day.

During the last third of the trip, he navigated through a slushy precipitation.

By the time he reached his destination, his Taurus was covered with a chalky film of salt so dense he could hardly make out its original color. He looked the car over and thought he could almost hear the metal being eaten away. A quick wash was in order.

Buffalo has a large chain of gas station/car washes. Their name screams at motorists from huge blue-and-red neon signs.

The traveler knew about car washes. After all, he’d come from south Missouri, not South America, and he’d tried most of the half-dozen automatic washes located in the Lake of the Ozarks.

The difference was merely in size, he decided, as he pulled into the Buffalo car wash. These big city washes handled about 50 customers at any one time and had upwards of two dozen employees.

Despite all the workers, the traveler pumped his own gas. There was a 10-cent-per-gallon discount with a car wash, meaning he only paid 30 cents more than the pump price at home.

He walked into the station and waited near the cash register for the clerk to notice him. Her nametag said Clareese, and she wore a sturdy metal ring in one nostril and half-a-dozen bits of jewelry piercing each ear.

She’d want to keep her head down in an electric storm, the traveler thought to himself.

Her most notable fashion statement, though, consisted of a collection of 3-inch day-glo purple fingernails.

They fascinated the traveler, but not nearly as much as they seemed to fascinate her. Eventually, she looked up from them and greeted him thus: “Regular wash or KISS Special?”

The traveler didn’t know. “What’s a KISS Special?” he asked.

Concentrating on a fingernail that was threatening to detach itself, she answered absently:  $10.99.  Abbott or Costello would have been proud.

A regular wash was $7 according to the sign. The traveler decided to splurge on the special. Later he learned that the special wash is identical to the regular wash but it entitles the buyer to a second wash anytime during the next five days for only $3. By the traveler’s calculation, this would save exactly 1 cent over the cost of two regular washes. But hey, he figured, you only go around once, right?

Clareese wasn’t finished, though.

Did the traveler want his car’s interior vacuumed?

Sure, he said.

“Basic Interior or Ultimate Interior?” she asked. The traveler didn’t know what an Ultimate Interior vacuum job consisted of, nor how it differed from the basic, but he now knew better than to ask. A sign on the wall told him the Ultimate cost $6  -- twice the cost of the Basic. He decided his car’s interior, long neglected, had earned the Ultimate.

Clareese tallied his bill with some difficulty. Her long fingernails made contact with the cash register keys difficult and her attention seemed to be divided between the tally and her chewing gum.

Eventually she decided he owed $51.50.

The traveler’s eyebrows raised until he remembered that this included a tank of gas. He paid, returned to his car and pulled into line. 

Eventually he reached the head of the line where the attendant asked to see his receipt.

“I see you got the Ultimate,” he nodded with approval. “Would you like us to Amorall your interior, too?”

“What does that do?” the traveler asked.

“It gives you extra per-tection,” the attendant promised. When the traveler hesitated, he added: “It’s, like, the whole shot. Ya got the KISS Special, the Ultimate Interior and the Amorall, yuh know? The whole shot for three dollars more.”

The traveler decided a final three dollars sounded worthwhile. 

Especially for the whole shot. He ponied up and proceeded through the car wash.

The attendant who dried his car directed him to a garage where the interior work would be done. A small army of red-shirted attendants were laboring over the cars inside.

One of them took his receipts and seemed impressed by their total. He looked inside the car, though, and shook his head.

“You got a lotta stains here. You want us to shampoo the carpets?”

The traveler was disappointed to learn that he needed something beyond the whole shot, but there were stains on the carpet.

He could hear a whispered “Go the distance” inside his head and decided he’d spend another $15.99 for the shampoo.

When the attendant pointed to a sign that offered a Deluxe Hand Wax for $29.99, he drew the line and shook his head. No.

When the shampoo was finally complete, another attendant approached: “Which scent would you like: Lemon-fresh, new-car or Spring-pine?”

To the traveler’s surprise, the scent was free.

As he drove away, he realized that he’d dropped 70 bucks at the Big City car wash.

He couldn’t remember which of the scents he’d picked out, but the interior smelled to him like fresh turkey.

Contact the publisher at jmolenda@lakesunleader.com.