Monday, January 24, 2011

Night Rider

The one advantage of a really cold day in the winter is that the roads are dry. This is an advantage not so much because the driving conditions are better, but rather because one's car will stay clean after it is washed.

There is very little for me that competes with the attraction of getting my car washed and driving it on clear roads. So when I made up my mind after work to prefer an evening ride to an evening cocktail, I immediately began preparing myself for the excursion. The first part of the routine is to get the inside of the car as tolerable as possible, which in the winter means removing the obvious debris from the car mats. There is little point in going the extra mile for the brake and gas pedals as they will only be soiled the minute one steps into the car. Perhaps a quick swipe with the cloth gloves, but nothing more.

Of course it is imperative to have one's dinner before heading out. One mustn't appear overly anxious to get to it. The necessities of life after all do not include a clean car (at least that's the appearance one must adopt if one is to avoid being viewed as completely weird). Once the function of eating is over, and the dishes are put into the washer and the teeth are cleaned, then it's time to get down to business.

These new cars resemble a space ship. There are all sorts of gadgets and computer readings to trip through before putting the vehicle in gear. Gone are the days of mere dummy lights. Now you can spend several minutes going through a series of informational and statistical reports. You can even call the gas station "hands free" and by verbal command to enquire whether the car wash is open. Once these preliminaries are complete, it is time to launch.

My empathy for machinery is no accident. Anyone who plays the piano by ear, as I do, knows the value of touch. On a bitterly cold day like today, I am careful not to push the engine too much or too fast. It's an adjustment process, allowing the lubricants to make the circuit, before hitting cruising speeds. With a bit of courtesy and patience, however, it isn't long before the engine is rumbling and sailing down the dry highway.

I have mastered the best roads to take to and from the car wash, by which I mean I know where the possible wet or snowy spots are. The general rule is to choose four-lane highways because they are normally the driest and the broadest, giving maximum scope to avoid other cars and especially trucks which may stir up some unpredictable mess. The so-called "back roads" leading to the major highways are not always a good choice because the lack of traffic tends to encourage persistent snow and other debris like salt and sand. In any event, one is permitted the luxury of testing the waters so to speak en route to the car wash, since it really doesn't matter how dirty the car gets while going there. As a result one has the opportunity of vetting a particular route before the critical return trip.

The ceremony at the gas station normally involves first filling the gas tank. This sets the stage for the cleansing process that is to follow. As well I harbour the perhaps groundless theory that a full tank of gas is a good thing especially in the winter to defeat unwelcome moisture in the tank. When the tank has been filled, it is time to revisit the various measurements to reset them to zero before starting a new round of use, things like the number of kilometers traveled, the average liters per 100 kilometers, etc. It never hurts as well to have the system run a check of all its vitals, tire pressure, status of oil change, etc. Then at last it's time to point the nose of the vehicle towards the car wash.

If you're lucky as I was this evening, there will be no one in line ahead of you. It is fairly reliable that if you venture out on a cold night, or very early in the morning, you'll be unobstructed. The simple truth is that the majority of people are not obsessed with cleaning their car under any circumstances. Most people adopt a more predictable course of action, preferring daylight to night, warmth to cold.

Part of the reason I indulge myself so willingly (and frequently) in this ritual of car washing is that Petro Canada made the mistake of creating a plastic card which, once purchased, entitles me to wash my car every day for ninety days. The cost of the card is about $165. In former days, even if I washed my car for only 45 days of that period, I would have paid on average $10 per wash, which represents a significant loss to Petro Canada and a commensurate gain to me. I have difficulty figuring out how this arrangement is good for Petro Canada, though admittedly it may drive my gas business to that same station, though not of necessity.

This particular car wash which I visited this evening in Stittsville is one of those "brushless" washes. In the winter, this is a good thing, since the felt wipes of the other systems inevitably freeze and collect ice which does positively nothing for one's paint job.

Once through the wash, I usually park the car under the exceedingly bright overhead lights at the pumps to examine the car from the outside. On one or two occasions, it was apparent that the washing machine was in need of some attention as certain residues were left on the car. For the most part however it is a task well done, and my summary review of the vehicle satisfies my craving for admiration of human capabilities.

Then begins the return trip home. This is where attention to truant snow and water is essential. Barring the unpredictable, it is often time to settle into some relaxing music and generally enjoy the pleasure of a smooth drive on clear roads in a clean car.

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