Think about this for a moment: Our vehicles are kind of the rolling billboards of Lawrence. After all, visitors passing through town likely will see far more cars than people while they are in the city.
Right about now, after more than a week's worth of winter slime and grime, our billboards seem to be advertising a margarita beach party gone bad: salt and ice everywhere and sand in places it shouldn't be.
That's where Ivan Hollins and men and women like him come into the picture.
"I'm looking at all those dirty cars out there now, and I'm just waiting for the first nice day to come along," Hollins said.
Hollins is the general manager of the Auto Plaza Car Wash, 2828 Four Wheel Drive, where he oversees a crew of about 10 employees. While the snow, rain and Arctic wind has made it grime time in Lawrence, there's one place where it is prime time. I'm talking about the car wash. (Come on, admit it. I've got the song in your head now.)
"When a nice day comes, it will seem like we're washing all the cars in Lawrence," Hollins said.
The car wash crew: making Lawrence beautiful four wheels at a time.
Of course, it doesn't take Hollins and his crew to wash your car. There are dozens of the self-service car wash bays around town. Or you could even go old school: a bucket, a hose and a driveway.
That is, if you think you are up to it. Our car washing IQ seems to have taken a bit of a hit in today's society. The Internet can help prove that point. One site — titled the Art of Manliness: Reviving the lost art of manliness — even provides an illustrated guide to the "perfect driveway car wash." (It also provides an illustrated guide to surviving a bear attack. There really are some wimps out there if we're having to review that.)
Other websites plumb confused me. Reader's Digest offered several tips, including pouring Coca Cola on your windshield to remove those really tough bug splatters, and it even suggested making your own windshield washer fluid out of vodka. (Question to research later: How cheap is the vodka they drink at Reader's Digest? Windshield washer fluid is only $2.99 a gallon.)
I won't go over all the basics of a perfect driveway car wash. Instead, I'll tell you that Hollins said the No. 1 mistake made by do-it-yourselfers is they skip the part where they use a chamois to dry off the car. Spots, spots, spots.
That's certainly not the only mistake, though.
"You see all kinds of things at the car wash," Hollins said.
Like some people who have used the household cleaner Comet or steel wool to clean their car's paint job. Hollins doesn't recommend regular dishwashing soap either. The special car washing liquid soaps are worth it, he said.
Then there was the woman who came to the car wash seeking a little help in cleaning her car's interior. She had started the job by washing the carpets down very well with a garden hose.
And, of course, there is wax, which means the Karate Kid can't be far behind: Wax on, wax off. Hollins said he has been yelled at before for not using sufficiently circular enough patterns in applying and buffing the wax. "You can go in straight lines, as long as you overlap them," he said.
But there is a lot that people don't get about wax, apparently. Hollins said he sees cars that have had their tires waxed, their chrome waxed, their mirrors waxed, their windshields waxed.
"There are some people who really like wax," Hollins said.
Then there are some people who think wax is just something they clean out of their ears. If they keep their ears like their cars, perhaps very occasionally.
"When we start handing out coupons, we start seeing cars that look they haven't been washed in years," Hollins said.
Ryan Blum, an auto detailer with Premier Auto at 23rd and Haskell, said there are definitely two types of people driving around Lawrence these days.
"There are those who have it and those who don't," Blum said of the car washing habit.
Well, maybe there is a third group: those who drive Mom and Dad's car and decide a good cleaning may be a good idea before they come for a visit.
"Those days before Parent's Weekend at KU are really busy out here," Hollins said.
A good car wash, of course, can do more than keep your folks happy. Blum said it can go a long way in preserving the value of your vehicle. A car with good paint and a good interior is going to have a much higher trade-in value than one that doesn't.
"We encourage people to look at it as an investment," Blum said.
Hollins looks at it that way too, but he thinks the investment goes beyond the monetary payoff. He's been in the car washing business for 20 years, and before that was the kid who enjoyed washing the car in the driveway.
Hollins is convinced that a clean car can clean up a few other things too.
"I think it does put people in a better mood," Hollins said. "That's one of the reasons I stay in this business. I get to see a lot of smiling faces leave here."
A bunch of smiling faces driving around town: Now that's a billboard any city would be proud to have.
— Each Sunday, Lawhorn’s Lawrence focuses on the people, places or past of Lawrence and the surrounding area. If you have a story idea, send it to Chad at email@example.com.