Disaster at the Car Wash Shows My Live-Action Gaming Style

Entertainment Games

I pull into the gas station ready to not only pump gas but pay for a car wash: “Touchless!,” whatever that means.

Our city roads are so coated with salt and sand for the winter that our car looks like it got sneezed on by a dinosaur. At the pump, I punch my regular set of buttons, but when the “Carwash?Yes?No?” pops up on the screen, I press “Yes!” And then it shows “13Pro?Yes?No?” I have no idea what that means, but it’s 9 degrees outside so I press “Yes!” hoping this makes things work. I pump my gas and jump back into the still-warm vehicle where my teenage son is along for errands.

“I’m pretty sure I paid for the car wash, but then it said some weird thing.”

“There’s a sign next to the display that gives you directions for the car wash.” He remarks, looking up from his phone.

Sign? I didn’t notice. I attempt to drive to the little building near the pumps that is the carwash. I am thwarted by a man who is filling his tires (the air pumps are in the same spot.) Going around him is impossible because there is another car in the way.

“What is that guy doing?” My son gets annoyed. “He’s not in a parking space for the store, not online for gas, blocking the car wash but not entering, and right next to the air pumps. And his trunk is open! He makes no sense.”

After a couple of grumbling minutes, I get out and knock on his window to ask him to move so I can use the car wash. It’s a handsome older gentleman who mumbles that he has been waiting for the air pump, but he’ll move, and by the way, the entrance to the car wash is around the back of the building. He drives out of the way, and as I maneuver the vehicle, my son points out that the guy was also blocking the sign that told about the back entrance. No matter. We are ready to wash the car!

Except we can’t enter the wash building until we punch in things on another kiosk thing by the entrance.

“Did you get a wash code from the gas pump?” My son asks. I hadn’t even looked for one. Not a problem. There isn’t a line behind me so I leave the car running the heat and go into the gas station store to ask for help. Apparently, I was supposed to take my receipt at the pump, which would have the wash code on it to punch in and make the whole machinery work.

“Which pump did you use?” the very nice clerk asks. I hesitantly point to one. He shakes his head. “You couldn’t have; it’s out of order.” I even more hesitantly point to another one. “Are you sure?” Nope. Not at all. “Do you know how much you spent?” Can’t remember. “Approximate amount?” No idea. I tell him I have my credit card and would that help? It wouldn’t.

“I’m sorry,” I say very genuinely.

“Do you remember what kind of wash you paid for?”

“13 pro.” I try to sound confident. I smile.

He sighs and tells me I can have a wash for free. I smile even more as he hands me a new code ticket. I triumphantly return to my car and warm son inside. The code is entered into the machine, the wash doors open, and a big green lighted display says, “GO!” so we make sure our windows are all the way up and enter.

“STOP!” the display changes when I am in the center of the little wash building. I stop the car and my son and I enjoy the water sprays, bubble jets, and strangely colored somethings that coat the car at regular intervals. It’s fun! I can’t see much out of the front window from all the stuff on it. We sing the funky song “Car Wash.”

“Mom! Go!”


“Go! You have to move forward now to rinse and dry off the car.”


“Now! The blowers are on a timer!” He waves his hands forward. I drive the car, finally noticing the HUGE, LOUD BLOWERS on both sides of the wall, along with other lit up signs I don’t read, but worried that the door will close soon, I rush out before the car is completely dry.

“You still had 45 seconds left.” My son informs as we sit looking out at the quickly freezing droplets on all the windows.

“How do you know?” I don’t have to turn to hear his eyes rolling, “The enormous digital countdown clock next to the blowers.”

“I’ll know next time!” I huff, ” It’s like when we play games, I learn by doing.” My son nods his head at that.
As we drive around doing our errands, I think about how much our gaming styles reflect how we approach life. I hate reading directions to our new table-top adventures. When they are read out loud to me, I fade off into wondering how many snacks will fit onto the play area. I usually interrupt with, “Let’s just start, and I’ll ask questions as we go.” Luckily, my son can answer my questions. He loves reading directions, understanding the whole layout, and planning strategies beforehand. My husband too. My daughter is more like me, but more so. She balked at using patterns when learning to sew until my mother (her sewing teacher) refused to buy any more expensive cloth unless patterns were created and followed. My daughter isn’t a gamer, though, too many rules.

I understand that my “jump in and make mistakes as I go” way of learning means I don’t win on the first round, but I can tell if the game interests me enough to try again. I accept failure and try not to make mistakes twice. I rock at improv and party games where the point is to entertain and go with the flow. This trait also comes in handy for “games” like parenting, where there are no rules to learn ahead of time anyway.

But if everyone had that gaming style, there would be trouble. In our family, I’m usually the one that starts our adventures, but it’s my husband that remembers to bring the maps and snacks for the long ride home. Regardless of the gaming style, no one is a sore loser. Everyone discusses better strategy for next time, whether it was competitive or cooperative. Crowing after a victory can be funny if kept short.

If I had slowed down and read the signs ahead of time, I might have avoided some of the problems getting that car wash. But in the end the car was clean, I got it for free, and I thought the frozen beads of water all over the car looked like diamonds.

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