Washing the car, among other things

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On Saturday I just couldn’t stand it anymore: the caked salt and mud on the sleek, black body; the perma-fog on the windshield; the bits of dead grass poking from the tailpipe. So I answered the urge to wash my car, even though I knew damn well it was going to rain all week.

People who have known me — and the cars I’ve driven — for a long time might be surprised that I even care. For most of my life I’ve driven beaters, the kind where I wouldn’t even notice if someone dinged me in a parking lot, the kind where people in new cars give me a wide berth on the highway, the kind where a proper car wash seems as extraneous as a flame job, the kind where you leave it unlocked and sort of hope somebody steals it.

Often, my cars have been filled with piles of newspapers, cigarette butts, empty water bottles and coffee cups, small armies of lighters and pens, puddled jackets and scarves, tangles of malfunctioning charging cords, discarded toothpicks and whatever my kids have left in the back seat, which sometimes includes food.

No more. My most recent vehicle, which is older than my youngest child and cost less than a good weekend in New York City, is different. I like this car. I love this car. A gift from my wife, it’s the first vehicle I’ve actually chosen for myself… ever. My first was a shiny VW bug that I bought on a whim. I had an Isuzu pickup truck that once belonged to the bar I worked at. The Jeep was my wife’s, and after that we purchased a series of sensible sedans and wagons based on availability, mileage and the amount of car seats we could fit in the back.

But this little beauty is mine.

It took half the day: I ran the vacuum and pressure-washed the mats and detailed the rims. I rinsed the salt from the body and elbow-greased the scuffs out of the hood. And then I buffed the entire thing with a clean towel so that it looked like polished licorice, a gleaming, black jewel.

It was soiled before I even got it home that day. And by Wednesday, it wore the same coat of rain-spattered, brown-gray grime as every other car on the road.

Saturday can’t come soon enough.

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