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My neighbor has a son. One afternoon, he came trotting over. I was watching a race—no surprise, but for him, I would turn away for a brief moment or two. He’s a nice kid and his dad had asked him to wash the car for the first time. It seems to be a rite of passage in some households. I don’t recall when I first learned the ropes, but I certainly did my share of auto grooming over the years. It was a family affair, and at the minimum a bonding experience. I am sure my neighbor had something very similar in mind.

So I let him in and he took a seat to watch TV along with me. Between races and ads, and a handful of pretzels, I somehow managed to tell him about my youthful endeavors with a bucket and a sponge. We didn’t use expensive power washers, like these, back then. My dad preferred the hands-on touch—do it yourself all the way. I don’t know why an electric device didn’t qualify, but I think he didn’t want the event to be over too soon. He wanted to talk, spend time, and tell some stories, you know the drill.

I told the kid that there is a definite preferred procedure to follow and care must be taken, no matter the age or condition of the car. You have to respect the surface and bring it back to its best possible state. I didn’t go into the power washer stuff. He was too young to get it. (Someday, he would.) By then he probably will have bought a nice portable job with multiple nozzles and brushes. But for now, he was going to follow in the footsteps of many a young son and squeeze sudsy water as millions have done in the past.

“Oh, it’s an art all right.” I crooned. “You have to have the right mild detergent and a big giant sponge—nice and clean. You have to watch for tiny pieces of grit that might scratch and mar the surface of the vehicle. Windex is the final touch at the end. Meanwhile, you can use circular motions until you have covered the whole territory and any caked on areas have loosened up. You do the same with more fervor on the wheels and rims. Hubcaps are another story. Major elbow grease may be in order during buffing. Rinsing is easy and fun on a hot day. I wouldn’t do this in the winter. It’s even worth coughing up part of your allowance to go to the local carwash. Most kids would agree.

Advice in hand, the boy left and I proceeded to follow the rest of the events of the race day. The following day, he popped over unexpectedly. “It was great,” he beamed. “I did what you told me and dad said it was the best carwash ever.” He was so proud. “Can’t wait ‘til next week. You want to come?” I laughed and nodded. I was glad I could participate in this important rite of passage.