Finishing Line

Then and Now

By Stefan Budricks

09/01/20

Musing about how changing circumstances have affected my COVID-era existence, I was somewhat surprised to discover that one of the few constants in my life is the car wash. Though I probably should point out that I have not been to a full-serve facility in maybe a year, my routine visits to my preferred wash — an express exterior — have continued uninterrupted.

For me, nothing has changed but for the fact that the guy directing drivers onto the conveyor now wears gloves and a mask, requiring me to assume the smile that previously signaled a warm welcome to the site. Accepting a dash wipe and air freshener from the same guy is the only interaction I have with a wash employee. The wash tunnel does its usual splendid job, I get to use the free vacuums, compressed air, and courtesy towels, and I’m a happy camper.

I compare this to some of my other routine activities — or what use to be routine activities: I haven’t had a professional haircut in months, and though I know it must show, I look ridiculous enough in a mask to distract any attention my inadequate coif might scare up.

Access at the supermarket is restricted to one entrance and occupancy is limited, so they have a security guard at the door to ensure compliance with the store employee’s direction to either enter or wait. I’ve given up on visiting one particular grocer on weekends because the line to get in is just too long.

I have not been inside my bank for months. For transactions requiring a live teller, I now line up in one of the drive-through lanes. If I time it right, it’s a quick and easy process. If I don’t, I can be in for a long wait with no way of escaping the queue.

My dentist reminds me that I’m overdue for a visit — routine, again, interrupted. This one concerns me. I cannot imagine being in a more vulnerable position than laying back with my mouth wide open — an inviting receptacle for whatever might be floating about in the air, not to mention fingers and instruments probing every crevice within. I know I’ll relent and make the appointment, but I’m not happy.

Whether participation (consistent, but as a distant observer only) in a quadrennial event qualifies as a routine activity might be debatable. However, every four years I look forward to the spectacles that are the political party conventions. This year looks to be a disappointment, though understandably so. What I’ve seen thus far has been instructive, but hardly exciting. At the Democratic event, the roll call of the states, for example, was cutesy, but the energy and passion that this part of the proceedings normally produces was missing. There’s only so much you can do with a virtual convention. The Republicans have their turn after this issue goes to print.

And so it goes with car wash conventions: the live gatherings cancelled, the virtual kind laudable efforts at making good. Truth be told, I don’t miss the travel, and you cannot beat the convenience of virtual attendance — log in from your home office or even the kitchen table if you are so inclined. Unfortunately, the camaraderie, the excitement of the crowds, and the social interaction cannot be mimicked virtually.

When all these forced adjustments start to chafe, I can always go to the car wash and find comfort in the familiar. 



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