The Abandoned Car Wash

For years, I walked past an abandoned car wash every morning on my way to work. A few years back, it did great business for a while, then was deserted. Re-opened a few times, but never stayed in business for more than an afternoon.

      I distinctly remember its Grand Opening, on a December morning. Giant bow across the front. Every vehicle in the region made its way to the car wash that day. The proprietor would be on his knees the entire time, making sure each vehicle was thoroughly cleaned. Having run his new business for hours, the proprietor fell asleep on site. But after that first glorious day, it would open only sporadically. The proprietor had his hands full with many ventures in the area.

     The sounds were awesome: Vroom-Squeak-Scrub-(indecipherable muttering). Such sweet music.

      As soon as my presence was noticed, the sounds would mute, but resumed when his sister came by with that jeep of hers:

“NO GIRLS! Thems too tall.”

“That’s discrimidation! We’re getting a lawyer!”

    In hindsight, I wish I’d been disciplined enough to heed that voice in the back of my mind: This is a limited time offer. How I wish I’d forced myself to stop and watch my Children’s beautiful imaginations soaring. No matter what household task I thought I needed to get to. My life isn’t any better today because I completed those tasks, and the car wash will never reopen.

     It’s hard to remember exactly what the proprietor looked like. Overalls, random hats (I guess a cowboy, firefighter, or pirate could operate a car wash?), always something in his mouth.

     I still see the proprietor every day. He is doing fantastic, looks great… and is about to graduate High School. (Gulp)

     The car wash’s colorful walls have faded. The few cars left are not clean. Once we realized it would never have a new owner, we retired it to a donation box by our front door. Never took that final ride to the donation center, though. Only clothes, books, and toys with lesser emotional attachment. We have walked past that particular donation box for years. Good days (Little League championship…), bad days (appendicitis…). Dressed up and leaving to say goodbye to Grandparents, then returning with a piece of our hearts missing.

     The long-dreaded day arrived last week: High School is finished. (Gulp) Absolutely heartbroken amidst all his bliss, I decided today was the day. Waited for the garbage truck. Closed my eyes. Tossed it in. Meanwhile, he bounded into the house and excitedly purged his backpacks, gathering all the materials he would no longer need. Ran past me as I was trudging back into the house, caught the garbage truck, and gleefully threw it all in. Thereby burying the abandoned car wash. 


     I am looking at a photo of the Proprietor and his Car Wash in all their glory. I brace myself as I flip it over… 15 years ago?! Such a long- yet fast- imperceptible disappearing act: car washes, train tracks, party favors, building sets, mispronunciations, 20-pound-last-day-of-the-quarter-backpacks, gratuitous band-aids, hand-made presents, inevitably monochromatic Play-Doh sets, all things Nerf, a lowered backboard… rain boots with a 50% chance of being on the correct feet!

    I have searched high and low, and now sadly conclude that there is not one single crayon in this house.

    I can’t see "Bracken Park" --the Whiffle Ball Stadium in our backyard-- anymore.

    Never again will I see the words SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED printed across the bottom of a just-unwrapped present. (Not too upset about this one.)

    Lastly: that little hand will never again hold on tight to mine as we head off on our adventures. (No future adventures will involve hand-holding.)

    All of these have been abandoned, No wonder this hole-in-my-heart is so massive! You could drive a Hess Limited Edition Dump Truck through it.

    And there would be nowhere to wash it afterwards.

Dan Bracken moved to Lakewood in 2011. He's been married 25 years and has two children (22, 17). He is a Life Skills Instructor at Monarch Center for Autism and creator of  "danipulatives": learning materials made from creatively re-used everyday objects.




Dan Bracken

Moved to Lakewood in 2011. Married 25 years. 2 children (22, 17) Life Skills Instructor at Monarch Center for Autism. Creator of danipulatives: learning materials made from creatively re-used everyday objects.

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Volume 20, Issue 12, Posted 1:36 AM, 06.19.2024