Friday, February 19, 2010

Tour Guide to the Car Wash

Tour Guide to the Car Wash

Shortly after I moved home again, I discovered my new avocation as tour guide. Friends visit several times a year, usually for a week or longer and I want for them to see and to love this land as much as I do. I haul out my lengthy list of places to go, people to see and things to do. Frequently I hear, “Why did you move back to Harlem. There is nothin’ to do around here.” Always, we run out of time to do it all. My list includes the usual places, the unusual places and those under the classification, Huh?

My friends and I mull over the itinerary. Each morning we choose the day’s items and events. We know each day is a movable feast of fun. But nothing is cast in concrete. Detours are inevitable. Rocks in the road are guaranteed. If we don’t cover much ground that day or the cafĂ© with the best buffalo burger is closed, there is always tomorrow. Or the trip next spring. We journey into the unknown, like Lewis and Clark.

We discovered The Car Wash quite by accident. My guests and I had spent the day touring Havre Beneath the Streets and the Clack Museum and two used-book stores. We had time to kill before meeting another friend at the supper club for an evening of feast. I pulled into the gas station to fill the tank. When the pump screen inquired if I wanted the Super-Duper Scrub and Rinse, I pushed “Yes”.

“Is this part of the tour?” my friends joked.

“Certainly,” I replied. “This may be the high-light of the day.” Actually, I was talking through my hat, since this was my first time at this particular car wash.

I eased the car into the enclosed wash-ateria. Torrential waters rushed at us from all directions. My van was soaped, rinsed and scrubbed with blasts of water. But then, when the three-colored polish, all pink, blue and yellow blobs, plopped onto the windshield, we cheered with delight at the unexpected beauty. It was as if Jackson Pollack painted a masterpiece while we watched. And that day a tradition was born.

Now when guests arrive, even before unpacking, they ask me, “When do we go to the car wash?”

I have gathered props for an adventure of living theatre at the car wash. I have appropriate music which includes such greats as, “See the USA in your Chevrolet,” “The Ballad of Thunder Road,” “Lost Highway’” “Hot Rod Lincoln,” and “Beep Beep.” While we wait our turn, I pass out party hats, streamers and noise makers. When we drive through the Rocker Panel Blaster and shift into “park,” I hand out the genuine plastic champagne glasses and pop the cork on the Sparkling Cider. When the tri-color polish hits the windows in explosions of pink, blue and yellow, we break into riotous celebration, horns toot, clackers clack, streamers stream and we lift a toast to the world-class tourist experience.

During the final rinse, we “bottoms up” our cider, put the party hats and noise makers back into the basket, exit slowly through the desert blast of hot air, and head out for the next stop on our tour.

I take my job as tour guide seriously. I am eager to initiate my next guests. After all, I have a reputation to uphold.

Sondra Ashton
Home Again in Harlem
January 30, 2009

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