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Creating Suds and Memories

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In this time of COVID lockdowns and restrictions, it can be hard for couples to find interesting date ideas. Fortunately for Pickering’s Brian Evely and his wife, Jeanette, there is always the automatic carwash.

“Jeanette and I get a coffee and we have a ritual; we go to the touchless wash and we always get ‘the works’ or the ‘premium’ as they last a little longer,” Evely said.

The couple, who have been married for 11 years, said the carwash is a unique shared experience that they do every week. “We sip our coffees and enjoy the water, the sounds, the smell of the tri-colour (washing fluid) and the wax, which is unique. It can only be duplicated in the carwash,” said Evely.

The automatic carwash is a common sight at gas stations or as standalone businesses all over the world. Originating in Hollywood, Calif., in 1940, the first example worked by having vehicles hooked up with a winch system that pulled them through the washing process, which was still done by hand. The first truly and fully automatic carwash opened in Seattle in 1951.

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Washing the car has a special meaning for many, but there is a divide as to what is the best way to do it. For some, washing by hand is a much loved and cherished part of ownership. It forms an emotional connection between an owner and their vehicle.

But preferences are changing. According to the International Carwash Association, the percentage of American drivers that report frequently washing their vehicles at a professional car wash has increased from approximately 48 per cent in 1994 to more than 77 per cent in 2019. The association also noted that carwashes are big business, as the industry accounts for more than 220,000 full and part-time jobs in the U.S. and is responsible for almost $28 billion (Canadian) in sales globally.

For Evely and others, the automatic carwash still represents an emotional connection channelled through high-pressure spray hoses and a waterfall of colourful foam. It’s also a connection that leans heavily on nostalgia; that feeling of revisiting an experience or place that made us happy.

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“It started when I was a wee boy with my dad, as he would take me to the carwash with him. I loved the brushes and the sounds,” said Evely. That linkage to the past is also something he shares with Jeanette. “It is a mutual pleasure as she, too, has memories of the carwash with her father.”

Drive-thru carwashes also offer strong memories of her childhood and her dad, said Andrea Traynor of Courtice, Ont. It’s an experience she now shares with her own children. “Those memories are so clear in my mind and when I take my kids through them now, the familiar suds and swishes collide with my sense of time and place and it’s almost like I’m in both experiences at the same time,” she wrote in a Facebook conversation.

The same sentiment is shared by Tammy Tolias of Ajax, Ont., who recalled childhood memories of the carwash while growing up in Etobicoke. “I used to really like when my dad would take us through. The cotton candy-coloured suds are calming, and the sweet soapy smell, too,” she wrote on Facebook.

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But not everyone associates carwashes with feelings of nostalgia. For those afflicted with autoplenophobia, the fear of carwashes, the thought of traveling through an enclosed space where you are bombarded with spraying water, mysterious foam and noisy air blowers is overwhelming. It can induce feelings of anxiety about being trapped in an enclosed space, the fear of not being able to properly align the wheels properly on the system’s track and the sensory overload that comes while sitting inside during the wash and seeing everything taking place around you.

Fortunately, those with Autoplenophobia have easy options available to them to help avoid their fear. Hand washing or using a coin-wash are alternatives that allow for a clean car without having to deal with the emotions and fear that come from their phobia.

For as much as we recognize the carwash for what it can do, it seems its unique status also comes more from how it makes many of us feel.

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