Lessons From The Car Wash

For a long, long time I have had a serious phobia about the drive-through car wash.

You are probably rolling your eyes and asking yourself, “She’s afraid of the car wash?  Seriously??!”  Yup, seriously!

I used to love going through the car wash as a kid.  I loved the sound of the water raining down on the roof…the thump, thump, thump of the long cloth “fingers” as they moved up and over the car…the “WHOOSH” of the dryers sending water droplets scurrying away.

5 Lessons on Overcomign FearAll that changed one cold, winter night about 14 years ago.  I was living up in the mountains of Colorado running Verbatim Booksellers, the independent bookstore I owned in Vail, CO. My mum was flying in from the East Coast, and I was to pick her up after work.  Since I have a tendency to try to cram too much into a short amount of time I was running late by the time I left work.  I took one look at my car, however, and although I was behind schedule I decided I couldn’t pick my mum up in a dirty, winter-grime streaked car.

I pulled off the highway and raced to the local gas station and car wash, figuring I could get a quick wash and be on my way again.  It was dark that night, really, really dark, and the car wash was set up so that you had to make a super awkward left turn to get the wheels inside the guide rails and onto the conveyor belt.

I tried and missed.  I reversed and tried again, still not managing to get the wheels aligned between the rails.  I tried once more, over-correcting, and ended up getting my left wheels wedged between the outer rail and the payment kiosk.  Please note, I am a good driver, really I am!

No ifs, ands or buts, I was stuck, seriously stuck….and fairly panicky!  I tried to pull forward, I tried to reverse out but nothing worked.  Finally, I just had to gun it.  I can still hear the sound of metal on metal, scraping, crunching, grinding.  To add insult to injury my now mangled car was splattered with soap as I drove through the wash in an attempt to get out.

I finally made it to the airport, picked up my mum and explained what happened.  When we walked out to my car she just started to laugh…there at the curb sat my car covered in a splotchy, foamy mess of frozen soap with a crushed back left side.

With my tail between my legs I went back that evening to determine what damage I had done to the car wash. Amazingly enough there was not even a scratch on the kiosk against which my car had been wedged.  I seriously thought I had broken the car wash and was going to end up on the front page of the Vail Daily newspaper as the dumbass who had had an accident in the car wash.

Grateful that I wouldn’t be the laughing stock of my community I was still traumatized by the event, and since that night I had NEVER again driven through a car wash, preferring to pay the extra few bucks and hand over my keys to the attendant to drive it through.

 Fast forward to yesterday.  I had just driven down to Denver from the mountains, and my car was grubby and dirty. Once again I was picking someone up at the airport, and I didn’t want to show up with a filthy car.  Perhaps that’s the Virgo in me??!

It was a gorgeous day, and it looked like the whole city had turned out to get their cars washed.  The line was ridiculous.  I pulled up and told the guy I just wanted an exterior wash.  He told me to get into the relatively empty self serve drive-through lane rather than the full service lane I usually go through.  I looked at him with wide eyes, and with panic in my voice said, “But I don’t want to drive through!!”  He gave me a “hey crazy lady do whatever you want” look and just shrugged his shoulders!

Rationally I knew this fear was silly but it was still very real for me.  But, with the alternative being having to wait behind a boatload of cars for more time than I had, I decided to feed my fear a “suck it sandwich” and just go through the damn self-serve lane.   (credit for the term “suck it sandwich” goes to Jen Sincero, author of the fab book You Are a Badass)

 Taking a deep breath, I pulled forward following the directions of the attendant.  Managing to get my wheels easily into the track, I shifted my car into neutral and waited.  The conveyor belt started to move, the soft pitter patter of the water began and all of a sudden the little kid in me who had loved going through the car wash was behind the wheel.  I started to laugh!  This is what I have avoided for all these years?

While I may never, ever, go back to the scene of “incident” I know now that if I need to I can drive myself through the car wash without fear…a liberating thought indeed!  I also know that I still love the soothing feeling of being cocooned in the car as it is nudged along through the wash.  A simple pleasure that is now available to me again 😉

5 Things I Learned from the Car Wash:

  • Fears and phobias will be my loyal companions until I am ready to let them go.
  • The tighter my hold on my fears the more inhibiting they become.
  • Sometimes having to face my fear unexpectedly makes it easier to let it go.
  • Remember that it is up to me whether I allow my fears to hold me back or face them head on and let them pull me forward.
  • Things that I didn’t even know I was missing are available to me again when I let my fears go.