So I have a new car, and I want to keep it clean, but I don't have a hose and driveway. So I take it to the carwash.
I go to a place called White Glove Car Wash. You drive up, you pick from a menu (hand-dry? wax? vacuuming?) and then you sit in this small, slightly cramped waiting room where you can buy Snickers bars and air fresheners. The experience isn't great, but it's certainly acceptable and they do a good job. My Golf looks shiny, and I feel responsible and proud when I leave.
So the other day, I drive up to White Glove, and I turn in, but wait - this doesn't look like White Glove! The space is bigger, the menu looks different, and I feel disoriented. I get out of my car, and a guy asks, "Would you like a Just Fine Shine? Or a Wine & Dine Shine? Perhaps a To The Nines Shine?"
What is going on? Did I step into a black hole? I look around some more and realize that actually, I am in a different car wash that is - no joke - right next door to White Glove. I am literally here by accident.
But this place is totally fascinating. It's called Simon's Shine Shop. It's taking the carwash to a whole new level.
I discover this when I enter the waiting room. A well-groomed young gentleman greets me at the rounded wooden counter. He looks like a hotel concierge. There are plush leather chairs everywhere. There are trendy magazines, coffee and tea, pillows in the window seats, and a children's play area. There is WiFi!
The guy tells me they have a loyalty program, and that my tenth wash is free. Oh, and they also give massages on Sundays from 11 to 2. This place rocks!
But as I make some tea and sink into one of the chairs, I start thinking more about it. Am I paying more for this place? I can't remember prices at White Glove, but somehow Simon's feels more expensive. And is this experience really worth the money to me?
A few more women come in, and either start reading Vogue, or take their toddlers to the toy area. They all look wealthy and busy. My comfort level starts to change as I begin to feel out of place. Unlike White Glove, where the carwash feels like a tedious-yet-responsible chore, at Simon's I feel a little indulgent, almost guilty. Like I'm throwing money away to sit in a luxury lounge, while the guys washing my tires and vacuuming my floormats probably make $8 an hour. I feel like I am here for me, not for my car.
There's certainly nothing wrong with catering to the person with the wallet. It's like how day care centers take pains to make parents feel secure. And veterinarians spend half their energy on the pet owners. Why not focus on the driver, more than the car? After all, the car's not gonna drive back here by itself!
So I decided the real test would be the quality of the carwash. If Golfie was clean, and I mean superiorly clean, then Simon's was worth it.
But you know what? My windows were still wet. Now they are streaky. The center console has a strange wet-looking stain. And whatever they used on the pedals now makes a little squeak when my shoe rubs it.
The bottom line: great experience or poor experience - for me, a carwash still needs to be about the car.