Commentary: Clean Cars

By Louis A. Zona

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – I really admire people like my neighbor Ed who keeps his automobile looking shiny and new. Several times a week he is in his driveway, hose in hand, making his 2-year-old automobile look like he just drove it home from the showroom.

I am reminded of my Uncle Gus, who in the 1950s drove his family from Flushing, New York, to New Castle every summer to visit Grandma and the rest of our family.

Uncle Gus loved his cars. I remember that he would run out to his car whenever the rain subsided to towel dry it. His 5-year-old vehicle always looked fantastic.

A warning in the form of a loud whistle could be heard whenever he thought that a street ball game was getting perilously close to his beloved Dodge sedan.

Then there’s me. I admire a clean car but I am never willing to put in the time and effort to make my aging Jeep Grand Cherokee look new. A couple of weeks ago, I had some repairs done and saw mechanics on their lunch hour amusing themselves by looking into the interior of my car. It resembles the city dump.

Rather than run over to defend my dirty car, I chose instead to hide from it. Those of us who commute and occasionally have a sandwich and cup of coffee in our vehicles expect such a car to be messy. But my car would win any trophy for the messiest, dirtiest car in the city. Make that county!

I once decided to rent a very nice car, a used Cadillac. One day, I offered a ride to two of my colleagues from the anthropology department of Youngstown State University. Once seated in my borrowed Cadillac, they looked at each other and remarked that they kept their pickup trucks cleaner than I kept my Cadillac.

Oh well, let’s just hope that they didn’t tell anyone about the comparison. Glad to be rid of the fancy car anyway – it showed the dirt.

When I was a kid, my neighbor Frankie’s car was so dirty inside and out that weeds grew out of the floorboards and back seat. Maybe it was a case of nature reclaiming what ultimately belongs to it.

I never would have thought that the laughs we had at Frankie’s expense and the grass-growing Fairlane would one day come back at me because I, too, would be transporting plants and vegetable debris in my not-so-grand Grand Cherokee.

Getting back to fussy people who have a need for a pristine vehicle. My neighbor Ed yelled at me not long ago after I decided to run my car through a car wash: “Lou washes his car once a year whether it needs it or not.”

Hey now, Ed. That is a low blow. You know darned well that I occasionally skip a year or two!

Hey, Detroit. If General Electric can make a self-cleaning oven, why can’t General Motors make a self-cleaning car? My car would need a special attachment to retrieve the fallen french fries in the front vents.

We were fortunate to have known a wonderful woman who worked at the Butler Institute of American Art as the education director. Her name was Peggy and she had the very worst time with automobiles.

My favorite Peggy story was her decision to drive through a car wash but forgetting that all of her windows just happened to be down as her car slowly made its way through the wash. Peggy’s close friend, Marion, was often called upon to help Peggy on her auto excursions, like the time that she ran over a city street red cone and dragged it all the way back home.

Neither of them wondered about the sound they must have heard that came from beneath the car. However, a street cone was not the only thing that our dear Peggy ran over during a friendly car trip.

Marion was able to identify one noise that came from beneath Peggy’s car. Lo and behold! It was an amplifier, the kind rock bands use. The car made it to Peggy’s driveway.

Lord only knows what other items Peggy might have dragged home attached at the bottom of her car. I will bet that a vacuum cleaner or two just might have taken that ride to her driveway.

Alfred was one of our most colorful neighbors and was always good for a laugh. His driving antics were especially memorable.

My nephew Nick probably experienced Alfred’s funniest episodes when he rode with Alfred. There was the time when Alfred, who had little regard for radio or TV talk shows, accidentally selected the Arthur Godfrey radio program when he really meant to land on his favorite country and western station.

He was so upset that he pulled the knobs off the car radio and tossed them out of the window. No fooling.

Despite the occasional zaniness, Alfred’s knowledge of cars prompted me to have him look at my old Chevy, which was acting strangely. He looked under the hood, crawled under the motor and checked two or three other areas. Each time he checked an item he would give it an “ah ha” and “um ha.” Finally, he crawled out from under my car. He stood up, lit his pipe and said, “Just what I thought. You need a new car.”

There was an old saying that I heard many times from my dad. “A clean car,” he said, “always runs smoother.” With apologies to my late father, if that saying has a thread of truth, my car needs to be junked.