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Drive Clean

by Stephen Lautens


April 19, 2002

I'm hardly one to talk about how clean other people keep their cars. The only time the dirt gets washed off the outside of mine is when it rains.

Don't get me wrong - I appreciate a nice clean car, but it's pretty far down my list of priorities. Standing around on a weekend with a bucket and hose is not my idea of fun. I'm also well past the age when impressing the local lovelies with my vehicular prowess means anything to me.

I've had my car for three years and it has been to a car wash exactly twice. The way I look at it, a clean car is a bit of a burden. Once it's clean, you have an obligation to keep it clean, which means regularly handing over fistfulls of cash to a car wash or spending every Saturday out in the driveway with a sponge. As an all or nothing proposition, I'm afraid it's going to be nothing.

As it is, my car only gets washed for weddings and funerals - and only then if it's for someone I really liked.

Even if the outside of my car has clumps of grass growing on it, the inside of my car is another story. I'm one of those odd people who considers their car's main purpose to be for driving. It's not a snack bar, video arcade or telephone booth.

A friend gave me a lift home the other day in his mini-van. Right off the bat, I have strong opinions about mini-vans. People have a tendency to drive them like they're steering a large sailing ship, wallowing in heavy seas and being carried merrily across solid lines by the current.

Anyway, I opened the door to get in and thought there had been some mistake. It looked like they had discovered the van at the bottom of an enormous box of cereal, but forgot to take the Cheerios out before driving it away.

By the time we had arrived at our destination, the little oaty o's were glued all over my body with the help of the drippings of several hundred old juice boxes. I looked like I had a particularly repulsive skin disease that would go soggy in milk.

There was never any eating allowed in the family car, so I suppose it's something I inherited from my father, and he in turn from his. I think we may have been allowed a single squished sandwich out of a plastic bag about mid-way during a 36 hour drive to Florida, but we had to account for every crumb. My mother's answer to our pleas to stave off dehydration was equally simple: "Swallow your spit."

I suppose the ultimate was someone I worked for twenty years ago. He had a big car that he kept polished to a high shine. Inside, however, it looked like the contents of a dumpster. All I could think was this is what a garbage truck would look like if you turned it inside out.

The prize however probably goes to my brother. He's a news photographer who practically lives in his car. He kept it full of snacks and treats to keep him going during his long days on the road. The only problem was, he wasn't alone. For several months he also had a mouse living in somewhere in the car. I think he finally had to keep a cat in his trunk to get rid of it.

So when you see my dirty car drive by, please try to remember that beauty is only skin deep.

© Stephen Lautens 2002

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