Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney is city editor of the Napa Valley Register.

J.L. Sousa, Register

My view of people who obsess on keeping their cars looking immaculate is close to that of the characters in Sheryl Crow’s song, “All I Wanna Do.”

While sitting in a bar drinking beers at noon, the singer and her buddy Billy look out skeptically on a car wash where, “The good people of the world they’re washin’ their cars/On their lunch break/Hosin’ and scrubbin’ as best they can in skirts in suits ...”

These lyrics bubble up at stop lights as I size up the vehicles around me, an improbably high percentage of which are squeaky clean to the point of fanaticism.

All that hosin’ and scrubbin.’ Are they nuts or is it me?

Considering how much grit and grime there is in this world, how do these owners maintain such clean machines? It takes time, money, dedication — all of which I apparently lack.

But for the windows, I’ve always been horrible about washing my car. I focus on the inside — the place where order and cleanliness matter most.

In a society where appearances count for so much, this is a perverse attitude.

My mother, who was raised in Mississippi, put a high value on appearances. She was no Southern belle, but making a good impression was a high concern of hers. As kids, we always had to tidy up for company. I came to think of this as a Southern thing.

My dad, a New Englander, rejected getting fancy just to please others. This contributed to his admiration of the Catholic church. Laborers could go to morning Mass in their work clothes and not feel self-conscious, he observed. You can’t do that in a Protestant church, he asserted.

As a kid who considered himself a Yankee, not a Southerner, I adopted my dad’s outlook. I wouldn’t be a slave to the dictates of fashion ... or community car washing standards.

I took vehicle washing nonchalance to a ridiculous level when I bought my first car, a brand new VW Beetle. It was stunningly cute.

Unfortunately, this occurred when I was undergoing Army training in El Paso. One of my fellow ROTC cadets was a Princeton graduate who dismissed car washing as ridiculously bourgeois. He never washed his own, he said.

Seriously? It’s a class thing?

So what did I do? I waited so long to wash my beautiful cobalt blue VW that — when I did—the shine was ruined.

I felt remorse. What in heaven’s name had I done! And for what a pathetic reason!

I vowed to never again neglect a car so brutally. Semi-annual washes, yes. Weekly wash-downs, no.

Even this twice-a-year regimen has proven too rigorous of late. I’ve regressed to Army days.

Several things are going on. For one, I’m now driving a used, 2000 Honda Accord.

How much love can a person devote to 17-year-old car once owned by strangers? We didn’t have the opportunity to bond at birth.

Also, my Honda has serious paint issues. The clear coat on the hood is peeling off.

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Not much if anything was wrong with the paint job when I bought it, but within a year or two the peeling started and it’s gathered speed.

You can binge-read online about Hondas of certain vintages and their paint issues. I am not alone.

When I walk through a busy supermarket parking lot, I always see two or three sibling cars with paint problems just like mine. Many are in even worse shape.

If I’d bought the Honda new, I’d be furious.

Cheryl is not so accepting. The exploding splotches on my hood, which resemble images of colliding asteroids, offend her. She’d like for me to get a paint job.

To me that’s crazy talk. My car takes me to and from work reliably. And when it sits all day in the Register lot, who’s to identify it as belonging to me?

When I step out on weekends, I typically ride with Cheryl in her five-year-old Prius which still glows from her meticulous care. Is Cheryl part Southerner?

If I had an appearances problem, and I don’t think I did, then riding with Cheryl mostly solves it.

For the purposes of this column I called around to body shops. What would it cost to erase my hood stigma? For a few hundred dollars, maybe I’d consider it.

The estimates were way higher. Upwards of $1,000.

Such a price is a non-starter. I can handle condescending looks. I’m resigned to driving ugly.

Kevin can be reached at 707-256-2217 or Napa Valley Register, 1615 Soscol Ave., Napa, 94559, or kcourtney@napanews.com.

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