Nancy Wurtzel

Nancy Wurtzel is a public relations professional and creative writer, who recently returned to her native Minnesota after living on the West Coast for many years. Read about her midlife journey on her blog, Dating Dementia, as she navigates through divorce, restarting a career, dating, empty nest challenges, moving home, baby boomer issues and caring for an aging parent with Alzheimer’s. Follow Nancy on Twitter and Facebook.

To Clean or Not Clean: The Winter Car Conundrum

Posted by: Nancy Wurtzel Updated: January 14, 2014 - 11:30 AM

Last week, I did something stupid.  I had my car washed.  Less than a day later my white Camry hybrid was completely filthy again.  The outside looked as though it hadn’t been cleaned off in many a year.  Inside, the pricey, molded floor mats were again a melty sea of gravel, dirty slush and salt pellets.  

I wanted to cry.  I almost cried.  But I didn’t.

Instead, I conjured bad words.  Very, very bad words.  Since moving back to my native Minnesota after living in Southern California for more than three decades, I have learned that vehicles and swearing often go hand-in-hand. 

The bad words actually made me feel a little better.

Then, I remembered a post I’d written back in 2012 and decided I would share it again.  If you live in snow country, you will be able to relate.  If you live in sun country, then you probably have a lovely clean car and you swear much less than I do. 

Enough said.

This post was originally written in the early winter of 2012.  It has been lightly edited.

Now that I’ve relocated back to my hometown in Minnesota, I can’t help but compare my former life in Los Angeles with my new reality of small town living in middle America.  For example, when I was shopping recently, I noticed almost all of the vehicles in the parking lot looked alike.

You see, it’s winter here and everyone’s car is dirty, which doesn’t seem to bother the natives one hoot.  In California, a car is considered a definite status symbol.  Many people will spend a small fortune and an entire Saturday afternoon having their cars washed and “detailed.”

In Minnesota, the only important “details” are that your vehicle have good tires, a working heater and enough antifreeze to get you where you want to go and back again.  No one, and I mean NO ONE, gives a rat’s ass if their car or pickup is dirty.  In fact, some people even consider it a winter ‘badge of honor’ and refuse to wash their car or truck until well after the first spring thaw.

Let me tell you, some days it’s damn difficult to tell the make, model or color of most vehicles.  And, believe me, you do not want to get too close to any of them.

The worst encounter with a dirty Minnesota car is when it slides into a ditch.  The natives know that when you do slide into said ditch, there is a certain protocol to follow.

First, the driver must pause with a wildly perplexed look upon his or her face.  Then, vigorous hitting of the steering wheel and swearing will commence.  Doesn’t matter if you are man or woman, young or old.  The hitting and swearing are expected and accepted.

Next, grab your gloves and jump out of the vehicle to survey the situation. However, if you’re stuck in a huge snowbank, you may be forced to climb out the driver’s side window which will either be less impressive or more impressive, depending upon if you get stuck in the window opening.

By this time, someone with a larger (and, of course, dirtier) vehicle will have stopped to help push you out of the ditch.  That’s right.  Amazingly, these Midwestern Samaritans will often risk their clothes and their health by getting up close and personal with another person’s filthy car.

Trust me, this would never happen in California.

In addition to the good Samaritans, you’ll undoubtedly attract a few of what I like to call “ditch cheerleaders” — usually older men who have no intention of actually providing assistance.  No sire.  These elderly folks are there only to assess the situation and make helpful (actually quite annoying) comments.

You can expect the cheerleader to scratch his head and say in a typical Minnesota voice:  “Yup, I saw you were going way too fast just before you hit that patch of black ice back there.”  Or, “Say, bet you’re real glad you didn’t get your car washed this week since it’ll be plum full of mud by the time you get out of that there ditch.”

Your job is to smile, nod (all hitting and swearing is done by this point) and rummage in your trunk for a large bag of coarse gravel.  The gravel is to help your tires gain some traction and hopefully avoid having the vehicle sliding further into the ditch.

However, if you’re a city girl like me, you probably won’t have coarse gravel in your trunk.  I happen to prefer a store-bought bag of kitty litter, which will basically perform the same task. I have a theory that the dirtier the car, the coarser the gravel.  Hence in my fairly-clean Camry hybrid, you will find a nice bag of pristine kitty litter.

That’s right, my Camry will only be ‘fairly clean’ this winter.  Unlike California, where people pride themselves on their individuality, here in Minnesota everyone’s job is to blend in.

So, I figure I’ll get my car washed every three weeks or so.  After all, I still have my California plates which will be a major tip-off that I’m from the outside.  People who actually live here will expect me to do something stupid — like try to keep my car clean.

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