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Salts of the earth wash salt of the road off cars


On recent sunny Saturdays, I have felt powerful urges to remove road salt. That means I have felt compelled to wash the car.

Like many drivers I have a love-hate relationship with road salt. When it is on the roads melting ice, I love it. When it is on the car, covering the once gleaming hood with a gritty, gray film, I hate it.

Getting the road salt off your car is one of those car-care duties -- like rotating your tires, keeping your fluid levels up, and changing your wipers -- that mark you as a superior American.

There are two ways to satisfy the urge to remove road salt. You can either take the car to an automatic carwash, where machines do most of the washing. Or you can wash the car yourself. I've done both.

I observe carwashes. When I drive past an automatic carwash, I make mental notes on it. Something like "carwash at rear of Crown Station on Belair Road near Ebenezer Road. Line forms in southbound lane."

Where the line forms is important, because the most difficult part of getting your car cleaned at an automatic operation is getting in. Many people feel the urge to remove road salt, especially on warm Saturdays.

I have found that the more visible a carwash is, the longer its line will be. For instance, the carwash on York Road, just south of the Beltway, is easily seen and always has a line.

On a recent Saturday, for instance, I drove past the carwash at 8:15 in the morning, and half a dozen cars were in line waiting to get in. I'm not even sure the place was open yet. I think the dirty cars outside the place must have spent the night in line, like people camping out at Camden Yards to buy Orioles tickets.

The ideal automatic carwash is the "sleeper" -- the carwash with a short line. When I happen upon a "sleeper," I feel as if I have found a $20 bill hidden under the front seat. I can still remember the March day a few years ago when I was driving down Liberty Road near Gwynn Oak Avenue and spotted a carwash behind a gas station that had only three cars in line.

The line was so short, I thought something might be wrong with the machinery. But after making sure that cars that emerged from the wash were not dented, scratched, or otherwise vilified, I got in line. In no time, my car metal was shining, and my car-care conscience was clean.

There are also "occasional carwashes." These places that turn their equipment on and off in the winter depending on how hot the weather is. Hotter is better. You have to scout out these kinds of places. Several years ago, for instance, I spent an afternoon circling a carwash in West Annapolis, waiting for any ,, indication that the place off Forest Drive was going to spring to life. It didn't.

The big carwash operations, such as the one on Howard Street just north of North Avenue, have a referee to keep order in the lines. A few weekends ago I saw a driver try to cut in front of the line of cars that had been patiently waiting on Howard Street.

The referee, an employee of the carwash, was all over that misbehaving driver. The referee hollered and pointed and made such a commotion that the impatient driver was forced to go to the end of the line. It was high moral drama at the carwash. The good guys won. I wanted to honk my horn in appreciation.

When you wash your car yourself, as I did last Saturday, you don't have to wait in line but you do have to resurrect all your summertime carwashing equipment. I turned on the outside water faucet and pulled the hose out of the basement. Then I ran the hose over the snow that was still sitting in the shady part of my backyard, and pulled it out to the parking pad where the sun was shining and the temperature came close to 60 degrees.

I sprayed. I washed. I rinsed. I polished. I put away the hose. It was such a nice day that after washing the car I walked down to a nearby paved school yard and played baseball with the kids. Great piles of snow served as the outfield walls.

The salt was off the car and the baseballs were flying. It felt like spring, if only for a Saturday. A few days later it snowed and salt was back on the roads.

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