When The Car Wash Changed Management


I was passing one of those self-service car wash stations and noticed its sign proclaimed it was “BACK UNDER OLD MANAGEMENT”. Possibly it declared the back-ness to be proud. That’s the normal emotional tone to put on that sort of declaration. But I was busy with driving and all that, and then wondering: those things have management? It’s a self-service car wash, just a concrete overhang and a bunch of coin-operated hoses of varied content. Having management at all seems to risk over-administrating it, even if all you do is stop in once a month to confirm the place isn’t currently on fire in important ways.

But there must be management at all, if nothing else to make sure that once every two months the sign proclaiming this to be a self-service car wash is turned off for four hours, thereby establishing that the sign isn’t some public feature just there to light the way but rather a private service that can be turned off at will or when the bulb burns out. So I guess that’s where management comes in at all, and can get changed, and go on to mess things up so badly that the old management coming back is worth crowing about. Still I’m imagining how the new management’s failure unfolded.

Surely new management began optimistically, with a sign proclaiming “NOW UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT”, though probably not saying who the new management was, since that would add an embarrassing personal touch to the place’s existence. New Management probably declared optimism and good cheer and maybe even an amnesty for people who abandon one-quarter-filled McCafe cups on top of the vacuum cleaners. That showed how poorly New Management understood the community, that they would interpret as slight littering their clientele’s ongoing public art project about consumerism and Shamrock Shakes. The customers wrote hurtful things about New Management in the local art journals, not ignoring the irony that since they had no idea who New Management was, they might be sharing a line at McDonald’s behind someone who’s somehow making buying a small coffee a difficult transaction, all jollily sharing one of those inexplicable confusing things about life.

Perhaps then New Management tried to make amends, rotating the concrete planters so as to show a slightly less moldy side to the street without actually putting any plants out to die in them. And the clients responded with tentative friendliness, especially when a rumor went around that the machines were now taking Canadian coins. Due to a programming defect that manifested itself with a new firmware update, because surely we’re in an age where self-service car wash change boxes need firmware updates, the machines were indeed taking Canadian and all other kinds of coins, sneaking into the patrons’ backseats and sometimes sending out remote units from the vacuum cleaners — those flimsy plastic heads detach for good, alarming reasons — to take any suspicious coin or coin-like items that the patron might have any dealings with. That would get sorted out in a weekly bug fix, but not before the community had lost literally several wheatpennies and a token for a Dance Dance Revolution game from a family fun center just outside Saginaw, Michigan.

Sure, a mis-step, but really the blame falls on whoever missed an obvious car-wash-automated-kleptomania bug in the firmware code update. Nobody knows who the programmers were or why they missed it. They might have been distracted by the weirdly slow line at McDonald’s. New Management tried restoring peace by setting the machine that dispenses greasy thin cloth towels for “drying” the car on free for a couple of weeks, then stopped. New Management tried drawing people back to the place by adding the scent of that thing they use to make medicines taste like cherry into the water. This would finally give patrons with sore throats a socially acceptable context to lick their side mirrors, as they’d be fresh-washed, but the plan goes wrong when new cars are attacked by swarms of coughing bees. At this point Old Management came back around, sighed, and offered to swap the self-service car wash place for something more New Management’s speed, like a disconnected telephone booth.

New Management agreed, and went to get a small McCafe coffee to feel better.

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Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there.

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