Panic attack

If you see me drive out of an automated carwash stall, you’ll know my car was covered in road dust and dirt, so much so that the paint looked grey rather than blue.

You’ll also know that I was in a rush. No way did I have time to hook up the hose and dig out buckets and soap and sponges.

Such was the case last week only I had no hose or soap or sponges.

I was out of town, and I couldn’t take the dirt for another millisecond. I pulled into one of two automated wash lanes at the first carwash I spotted.

Like anyone would, I chose the one that put me next in line. Two additional vehicles quickly filed in behind mine.

I steered up to the payment terminal, credit card in hand. So filthy was my car, I selected the top-of-the-line, gold standard, premium $12 wash.

That’s when I saw a wide piece of duct tape that covered the card slot. Scrawled in bold black letters were the words: “Cash Only.”

Now, you and I know that people no longer carry cash. I always say I will, but seldom do.

A sense of sick panic started to rise from my stomach. Then, I remembered—ha—I did have cash.

I dug out two fives and quickly inserted the bills.  I scoured my purse, looking for two ones, but only came up with a $20 bill.

I knew the vehicle in the wash bay would soon exit and glanced in my rearview mirror at the cars lined up behind me.

I said to myself, “Self, hit ‘Cancel.’ It will refund your money so you can go for the $10, not so premium wash, but better than no wash at all.”

I pressed cancel. Nothing. Again, I pressed. Nothing.

My heart pounded with each flash of the angry red LED digits: “$2.00, $2.00, $2.00.”

I wanted to shout, “I know! I know! I know!”

My mind raced in search of options. I would not leave my car and beg for $2.00. No way. No how.

The car in the wash bay had progressed to the rinse cycle. My eyes landed on a change machine two stalls to my right.

I grabbed the $20, leaped out of my car, and returned—hands heavy with the weight of twenty dollars in quarters.

I quickly pushed quarters into the change slot only to watch them fall through and into the refund tray. Again, I pushed quarters. Again, they fell through.

There I sat at the carwash with $20 in quarters that the machine refused to accept for a $2.00 balance of a  wash selection that would not cancel.

I shouted to myself, “Self, you are living a car wash nightmare!!”

Picture a desperate woman running from car-to-car begging neighboring drivers—aka Oliver Twist—to trade dollars for quarters.

Yes, she was me.

Did I mention that no one carries cash anymore?

On my third try, a couple of quarters slipped between my fingers and pinged to the ground as the man waiting for the wash next to mine handed me a five.

“Keep it,” he said. He felt sorry for my sorry self.

“No. I’ll repay as soon as we get washed,” I said.

I sprinted to my car—the vehicle ahead of me long gone—and dared not glance in the direction of the line of cars behind mine.

I fed the $5 to the machine and—oh, joy—received $3 in quarters for change. An exhausted and frustrated and angry and relieved person I did not recognize pulled into the wash bay.

Yes, she was me.

I did pay the nice man back—in quarters.


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