September 29, 2018

At the Car Wash

On the eve of my 43rd birthday, I decided to cross something off my to-do list.

I went to the car wash.

It's not my car was that dirty. After all, I'd let a man who'd told me he was a Chinese prophet only pretending to be homeless wash my windows at the gas station the weekend before.

But the United Oil at La Brea and Slauson—conveniently on the way home from Huntington Park, where I'd been celebrating someone else's birthday—isn't just any car wash.

It's a Tomorrowland ride into the sky, a millennial version of Googie that takes the "drive-in" concept to a whole new level.

Given its history at the nexus of car culture, it's no surprise that LA would have its fare share of fabulous gas stations—from the recently landmarked 76 station in Beverly Hills (circa 1965) to the "Helios House" ARCO station (formerly BP, circa 2007) at Robertson and Olympic.

But this is the only one I've seen that offers a car wash that's worth taking the long way home—though much of its appeal is an optical illusion. You don't actually drive on the roof from the concrete on-ramp and across the steel canopy above the gas pumps. The ramp simply ascends and descends up, above, and down behind the gas station market.

And either because it's so visually attractive or just conveniently located near LAX in the traffic-heavy Mid-City LA, the wait is too long (with no escape off that ramp) and the washing is too short to contemplate the future in any meaningful way.

With a project cost of about $8 million in 2009, it was the most expensive United Oil station at the time—designed by Kanner Architects to resemble or at least approximate the feeling to a freeway ramp.

Who would want that? After all, taking Slauson is one way to avoid the freeway.

But it's in our blood—even if we weren't born here. For true Angelenos—those of us who love it here and want to stay—the transfusion happens slowly, maybe even imperceptibly.

And then one day, you realize you're waiting in line for a ride like Autopia or Radiator Springs Racers at Disneyland and you're making a list of the gas stations and car washes you want to hit before you die.

I needed a car wash anyway, at least eventually. And I'll need one again. I might as well make it interesting rather than a chore.

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