Clean Trucks

Soon, the whirr of spinning brushes, the high-pitched scream of a motor, the sound of water.

The last time I washed my truck was in the spring of ‘03. I remember it well because I had a violent fever and was hallucinating at the time.

The only thing I recall from that day is walking outside, without pants on, and washing my truck with a garden hose while singing “Mister Sandman.”

Next thing I knew, my wife was at home with bags of groceries in her arms and shouting, “What in God’s name are you doing?” Then, she threw me into the backseat and drove me to the ER.

“What’s wrong with him?” the doctor said.

“I don’t know, doc,” my wife said. “I left him in bed, I went to the store, and when I got home I found him eating a jar of Turtle Wax.”

“This is very bad,” said the doc. Then he snapped his fingers before my eyes. “Sean, can you hear me?”

I nodded and said, “When can I open my presents, Mommy?”

So today goes down in my own personal history. I took my truck through an automated car wash. I don’t know what made me do it.

First, I bought some licorice at the gas station, then I purchased a ticket for the car wash.

It was great. There were big brushes spinning on hydraulic arms, and high-powered spray nozzles shooting water with enough pressure to bore holes through bricks.

And I was a child again.

It’s funny, sometimes I can’t recall what I had for supper last night, but I still remember when they built the small car wash next to the Conoco station.

I remember the bulldozers breaking ground before it was built, and the old men who stood at a distance, shaking heads in disapproval.

“A car wash,” one man grumbled. “When did people get so lazy they forgot how to use elbow grease?”

“Bah humbug,” said another.

And I remember the grand opening. My father was among the first customers. That Saturday, we were in his F-100— forest green with tan interior.

I brought a snorkel mask for the big event.

In my hands was chocolate milk. Daddy was eating a black licorice whip. God, did that man love licorice.

We waited in a long line of vehicles. I don’t remember what the radio was playing, but I’ll bet it was something like “The Trilogy” by Elvis Presley.

Daddy was craning his head to see what was happening to the cars ahead. We could see splashes of water and hear the loud sounds of Armageddon.

When it was our turn, my father placed quarters into the slot, then hit the red button. We rolled forward.

“Hold on to your unmentionables,” said my father.

I lowered my snorkel mask.

He threw the gear shift in park. The doors closed before and behind us.

Then the whirr of spinning brushes, the high-pitched scream of a motor, the sound of water.

My father ate his licorice whip like he was watching a double-feature Western.

The experience ended far too quickly. When we exited the ramp, my father parked his truck and leapt out to observe the finished product.

He inspected his vehicle, especially around the fenders. I stood beside him, watching him kick the tires. They were as clean as I’d ever seen them. Pure black, no mud.

“Do these tires look dirty to you?” he said. “They look dirty to me.”

Dirty? I was thinking. They were clean enough to serve as an entree. Was he going blind? Then it dawned on me, I knew what he was suggesting.

So I nodded my head. “Yes, they look absolutely filthy.”

“I knew it,” he said. “Just as I expected, what a waste of money. Guess we’d better run it through it one more time.”

“Couldn’t hurt.”

We waited in the line of cars again. And when we rolled through the wash the second go round, it was even more fun than the first time.

Today, I’m not much different than that little boy—except within the eyes of the IRS. I can still see my father leaning over his steering wheel, bending his neck to get a better look through the windshield. I can see him gawking at the orchestra of gyrating parts.

Anyway, when my carwash ended today, I stepped out to inspect my truck. I looked at the fenders and tires. I swiped my finger across my wheel and inspected my fingertip.

Just as I expected.

I decided I needed to go through one more time. Not for me, but for the cleanliness of my tires. And, for a man I once knew who died too young.

Besides, I wasn’t even half finished with my black licorice yet.


  1. Sheila - January 29, 2019 11:38 am

    You are awesome Sean. Was Thelma Lou with you?

    • Steve Winfield - February 27, 2019 2:23 pm

      Exactly what I was thinking.

  2. Martha Owens - January 29, 2019 12:14 pm

    I will be thinking of you next time I go through the car wash!

  3. Rae Carson - January 29, 2019 12:30 pm

    Now I’ll smile at this memory every time I take my old pickup through the car wash. Wait — I don’t think it has ever seen the inside of a car wash, despite all the dust country roads it has traveled. Maybe it’s time.

  4. Beth Ann Chiles - January 29, 2019 12:49 pm

    Car washes hold a special charm, don’t they? And you have the memories to savor while sitting and watching the brushes scrub. I make it a point to only go into carwashes that have the sensor plates and not those silly lanes that you have to aim into because I can never get in those straight and end up making a fool of myself backing up and retrying. And then there was the time my car died in the car wash…but that is a story for another day. Thanks for the smiles this morning.

    • Sherry - January 29, 2019 12:53 pm


    • Bob Chiles - February 2, 2019 3:09 pm

      Are we, like, cousins or something?

  5. PamPam - January 29, 2019 1:18 pm

    Your stories bless me, make me smile, bring a tear to my eyes…everyday. Thank you!

  6. hereandthere619437697 - January 29, 2019 1:44 pm

    Sean…I have a different opinion of car washes…I have an irrational fear of automated car washes. Just this past week my husband wanted to get the car washed and I stood outside and waited for him. Nope will not do it. When I was little my mother drove a Chrysler and it had those little windows for venting that sat in front of the passenger and driver’s side windows. When I was about 6 my mother would take the car through an automated car wash on a weekly basis. Well, those little windows didn’t seal and they leaked. I would have nightmares of drowning inside the car, inside of the car wash. No amount of black licorice will ever get me inside and automated car wash…and I love black licorice.

  7. Alice Grimes - January 29, 2019 1:59 pm

    Sean Dietrich, you have surely made your dad proud. I

  8. kphurley - January 29, 2019 2:13 pm

    I love the comments from the curmudgeons….but deep down I know they are right. Very sweet story.

  9. Ann - January 29, 2019 2:52 pm

    You. Are. Awesome. Thank you; I need the smile this gave me this morning.

  10. Rebecca - January 29, 2019 3:06 pm

    I love car washes. I use them as a stress-reliever. On a really bad day, I’ll leave work and go through the car wash…. and pay extra for the super duper wash so it will last longer. It’s best late at night when there’s no one behind me and I can take my time. And sometimes it takes two washes. Not for my car, but for me 🙂

  11. Kathie Kerr - January 29, 2019 3:13 pm

    Love this, but the last car wash i took my 19 year old nissan to was pretty fancy. You had to get the wheels into the glider thing just right. After the car strarted moving i made the mistake of straighting the wheel and left it out of park. Ruined my hubcap. One day i plan on a cross country trip to junk yards to find a replacement.

  12. Denise - January 29, 2019 5:02 pm

    We have fun memories of taking our son’s friend, a Kenyan exchange student, through the automatic car wash! All he could say was “ Ay – Yi – Yi – Yi Yi”. with lots of smiles and laughter. When he came to our house he had never seen a toaster before! It was fun to introduce him to our modern conveniences!

  13. Kathy - January 29, 2019 5:50 pm

    Thank you for the great article…Daddy always look the family car to the car wash…we lived on a farm & I remember him taking a water hose and opening both doors of the pickup truck to clean out the CAB!

  14. Brenda - January 29, 2019 6:37 pm

    Sean, I wish everyone could love as deep as you. I can feel your love through your words.

  15. Edna B. - January 29, 2019 10:26 pm

    Such a fun story and a wonderful memory of your Dad. Sean, you have a wonderful evening, hugs, Edna B.

  16. Freda Porter - January 29, 2019 11:04 pm

    Sean I just love your stories and the way you tell them I know your Dad would be very proud of you.
    They make my day .
    God Bless

  17. that's jack - January 30, 2019 4:11 pm

    Yep, that is what has happened to the world. Folks got to high fallutin to use a garden hose. However if one uses a hosepipe with no britches on, he might aughta take his truck thru a car wash twicet. And eat some lick rish during the trip.
    Good entry, I was right in the truck with y’all.

    • Debbie Shiflett - February 27, 2019 1:52 pm

      I think you must be my husband using a false name. You speak just like him! ???

  18. Mary Ellen O'Hara - February 1, 2019 4:40 am

    You are a poet and a weaver of words.


Leave a Comment