It is Western New York’s rite of spring.
Even after a mild winter, excitement fills the air as we witness the great migration of cars to the car wash. They line up proudly, awaiting the baptism that will wash away the salt and slush. So much dirt! So many cars.
Except, according to long tradition, mine.
I grew up in an anti-car-wash family. My dad, a child of the Great Depression, washed the station wagon in the driveway. The region’s most recognized car-wash chain, Delta Sonic, was around back then – it was founded in 1967, in Niagara Falls – but I used to beg to go through another car wash, Tonawanda’s legendary Blue Whale. You drove into its mouth and out its tail, or something. I never found out for sure. Because the answer was always no.
As a grown-up, I have emulated my dad’s frugality. Except I don’t wash the car myself, I just drive a dirty car.
That was the day the ice boom came down. The first mourning dove cooed. We hit 60 degrees. It was time.
Emptying my car took hours. Out came ice scrapers, snow shovels and mittens. Winter, begone! Glowing, I drove my lightened vehicle to the Delaware Avenue Delta Sonic.
And my head swam.
The place was jammed. Cars were packed tightly, under hoses, at gas pumps, and in endless lines. How did you even drive in? As I hesitated, the car behind me tooted. I fled.
Perhaps, I thought, I should put this off. Howard, the motorhead I married, could go with me. He could drive and …
No. I was not going to go home and admit I could not go through a car wash. Maybe the Delta Sonic on Niagara Falls Boulevard would be easier.
Sure enough, though the Boulevard Delta Sonic was also mobbed, at least I spotted a sign that said “Enter.” Swerving, I obeyed. There was a long line, and I pulled my car into it.
Ten, 15 minutes passed. I relaxed, feeling a kinship with my fellow motorists, all going through this cleansing ritual together. Ducks paddled on a pond. The sun shone. My phone beeped. It was Howard, texting me a picture of his lunch at a crowded Ted’s Hot Dogs. Apparently half of Buffalo was at Delta Sonic and the other half was at Ted’s. That is how you know it’s spring.
A smiling teen ran up to my window and helped me figure out my order: a Super Kiss and a 10-minute interior cleaning. She scribbled unintelligibly on my windshield.
“Busy day,” I said.
“It’s been like this every nice day for a month,” she said.
My turn came. Carefully, I piloted my car into a booth that doused it with suds. As I waited for the water to clear, the driver behind me gave me the horn. I waved, turned on my wipers, and drove forward.
The next challenge was to get onto the track that would propel me and my car through the, ahem, Tunnel of Love (as Delta Sonic calls it). Not easy! But worth it. This was how I had imagined the scene in the belly of the Blue Whale – a plunge into darkness, flashing green and blue lights, mops slapping the windows, a hurricane of purple rain. Lastly, a magical chamber of twinkling red, white and blue lights.
So much fun! But I wasn’t out of the tunnel yet.
I got lost on the way to my interior cleaning. Then I had to ask directions to my car when I heard it was done. To top off the adventure, the staffers apologetically pointed out smudges on my trunk. Go back to start.
The tunnel was just as thrilling the second time. And, OK, there was a third time too. If I had played my cards right, I bet I could have scored a fourth. After two hours, though, the lines were getting longer, and I had to leave this watery wonderland.
“How did it go?” a co-worker asked. “Did you have trouble getting the car onto the track?”
“I had trouble with everything,” I beamed. But I do love my clean car.
Now, if we could just bring back the Blue Whale.