Whenever I go to the car wash I am reminded of those old Jim Croce song lyrics, “I have those steadily depressing, low-down mind-messing, working at the car wash blues.”
I drive up and there they are, clean and shiny people with bright red shirts and logos waving me in. They’re always standing out of the Arizona sun in the shade beaming at me when I pull up. After all, their job is to move me from the $9.99 plain car wash with no scent, up to the $24 fancy car wash with scent, which they hope isn’t all that hard to do because, who wants a car that smells like a car?
Those clean and shiny meeters and greeters probably make a commission every time I decide that I want my tires to shine and my olfactory senses to be altered. And they get that commission in addition to their minimum wages.
I pull up to where all those other people are standing with the vacuum hoses in their hands and the sweat dripping down their faces. The ones whose jeans are even lower than usual under the weight of the spray bottle stuck in their pockets. These car wash people don’t wear red shirts with logos on them. In fact, they wear shirts that look like they could be used to dry the next car going through the car wash and they wouldn’t be any the worse for wear.
Washing a car is hard work. That’s why I don’t do it myself. It makes my back ache and my shoulders sore and when I’m done there’s all that stuff to put away.
Still, I feel depressed when I go to the car wash and I don’t like to go very often. I feel sorry for the people who work there. Not only do their backs ache and their shoulders ache, but all that work can hardly be worth what they are paid.
I read that in 2015, The Industrial Commission of Arizona announced an increase of Arizona’s minimum wage to $8.05 per hour, effective January 1, 2015. My guess is that would be what the base rate the people at the car wash in the red shirts with the embroidery get. Not a lot of money in any case.
The other people however, the ones with the hoses and the rags, they get the “Arizona Tipped Workers Minimum Wage” which is a base rate of $5.05 per hour (thanks to a $3 tip credit—which presumes that they each get $3 per hour in tips).
It’s probably a pretty sure bet that people like me who are driving their spanking clean cars into the car wash to get them even spanking cleaner earn a lot more than those people who are washing their cars. In fact, I can almost guarantee that a person who works in a car wash and who earns an “Arizona Tipped Workers Minimum Wage” doesn’t make enough money to pay someone else to wash his car.
When I was in about the sixth grade my sister and I took a bucket and some rags and walked the door to door in the neighborhood offering to wash cars for $1. According to DollarTimes.com, if we were washing cars door-to-door today, we would have had to charge $8.86 to make the same amount of money as we did then. Let’s say it took us an hour to wash and dry a car, which means we would be making $8.86 per hour.
That’s better than the people washing and drying cars in the 110 degree Arizona sun are making today—and my sister and I were living in balmy Southern California, with no Arizona sun.
I sit in my car waiting to be waived forward by the young woman with the smile. I wonder what she does with the small amount of money she earns. How does she divide it up? I wonder where she lives, what she eats, where she buys her clothes. Does she have children? Is she going to school?
I feel for her and her smile.
She doesn’t make as much as two 10-year-old little girls made 60 years ago, but she has the dreams of someone much older.
I get out of my car and the woman with the smile reminds me to leave the keys in. I ask her if she is a student. She says she wants to be.
I think about the people who are marching for a higher minimum wage.
I think about my tip and how $3 isn’t really enough to get each of the four people drying, polishing and wiping my car past the minimum tip credit per hour and that in order to do that I should tip $3.00 per person, per car wash which is $12—or, more than I paid for the car wash in the first place.
I think about me and my sister and our bucket and some rags.
I remember the day when minimum wage was called “living wage.” I was taught that everyone was entitled to a living wage. Then it was changed from “living wage” to “minimum wage.” It’s a good thing they changed it because I doubt anybody at the carwash would call what they earn a living wage.
I can’t even call it that.
I ask the young woman if she’s ever heard Jim Croce’s song about the steadily depressin’, low down mind messin’ working in the car wash blues.
But she’s too young.
She’s never heard of it.
Too bad. Those blues were written for her.
Author: Carmelene Sinai
Editor: Travis May