The Trouble with Towels: When the Car Wash has to Call 911 for an “808”


Running my Jeep through the car wash on a Sunday Afternoon is not an unusual experience.  But it certainly was unusual this week!

So,  “Jeepers” just had her “bath” (don’t judge me – I know I’m not the only one who names and perhaps even talks to her vehicle).  We had just pulled into the free-vacuum-out-your-own-vehicle area and I was talking to my husband on my cell when I heard some commotion around the vehicle next to me.

When I looked over, I heard very loud voices and saw two grown men shouting at and pushing/shoving each other. (I opted to sit in my vehicle for the time being). One man, the car wash customer, was holding one of those blue car wash towels very tightly while quickly and angrily circling his vehicle while the other man, a car wash employee, was following him around shouting “No one touches my towel!”

Anyway, after listening in to a bit of the “discussion” (at that volume – I had no choice but to listen in), here is my assessment of what happened:

  • As the customer was vacuuming out his vehicle, he walked over to the detailer’s area and picked up a towel to do some further drying/touching up of his vehicle’s exterior.
  • The car wash employee noticed this “towel-napping” and walked over to the customer informing him that this is his towel and asked for it back.  The customer continued to use it on his car and the employee attempted to pull the towel away from the customer.
  • Things escalated to the point of pushing and shoving while the customer’s wife and other bystanders loudly added their opinions to the frenzy..
  • Another car wash team member (perhaps a manager) came over to try to diffuse the situation. But it just continued to escalate to the point where some of the bystanders called 911 to report this disturbance (known to police as an “808”).
  • At one point, an older gentleman attempting to assist also tried to get the towel back from the customer.  But the customer exclaimed “I paid $10 for the car wash, I should be able to use the towel”.
  • When that was unsuccessful, the gentleman pulled money out of his wallet and tried to give it to the employee saying, “Here: Use this for a brand new towel!”.  But the employee refused, continuing to yell, “Nobody touches my towel!”.

Next thing you know, the sound of sirens filled our Sunday afternoon.  And I was not going anywhere because my Jeep was now blocked in by 2 police cruisers and other bystander vehicles.

“Overly Passionate Opinions” About A Towel!

As I slowly ventured out of my vehicle to cautiously vacuum the one side furthest from all the activity (police doing an excellent job of diffusing the situation, separating the still-very-angry-men, interviewing bystanders, etc.), I began thinking about how silly it was to get so bent out of shape about a towel.  I also began to think, “Oh, these guys should have heard my pastor’s recent sermon series on ‘Amazing Faith to Overcome Offense‘!” because our pastor was teaching about offense stemming from people being “overly passionate about their opinions” (-Pastor Derrick Golden, Amazing Church).

And, clearly… these two guys were over-passionate about their opinions.  Yes, both of them had valid reasons for their opinions. The car wash detailer probably simply wishes to do his job with excellence. And if every time he leaves his station a random customer borrows his towel, when he goes to detail the next car he would likely add dirt rather than more shine to the vehicle.  And, the car wash is trying to run a business after all.  The car was offers a vehicle detailing service for an additional fee, but if they let customers use all of the other equipment and towels in addition to the vacuums they already freely offer – they would lose money.

The customer had a good point, too.  He had paid 10 bucks for the car wash – so why was it such a big deal for him to use the towel?  And, the employee trying to forcibly remove the towel from his hand felt like a violation to him.

But I could look at these two and quickly observe that they were wayyyyy “overly passionate” about their opinions!  The situation would have never escalated if the car wash employee had just let the customer have the towel (plus that other nice man was willing to pay for the thing).  Things would have also ended peacefully and quickly if the customer had just – as Elsa would advise –  “Let it go!” and released his grip on that little blue towel.  But, no….  the police had to come and break this thing up!

“First, Let Go Of The Towel In Your Own Hand”
(a very loose interpretation of Matthew 7:5)

So, just as I was beginning to shift into “high-and-mighty-just-came-from-church” mode –  thinking “I would never get that bent out of shape about a towel!” I felt a familiar friend of mine, Holy Spirit, gently nudge my soul as if to say, “Tracy, do you remember why you are even here at this car wash?”   Well, the obvious answer, “To wash my vehicle”, was true of course.  But why was I there at that particular time?   {Insert sigh of embarrassment and conviction here}.

So, rewind to a little bit earlier. Our church’s Sunday Morning Worship Experience had just wrapped up.  We are a part of a rapidly growing church community, so the local YMCA serves as the temporary location for our Sunday morning activities. This causes a swirl of activity right after service as most of us who attend also pitch in to turn the space from a church sanctuary back into a gym.  My husband and I both play instruments so we’re a part of the breakdown team.  Well, as we were packing up our instruments, amps, and such – I became upset about some things my husband said during a conversation we were having.  When we talked about it later – neither one of us could remember exactly what it was about.  And here I was beginning to judge these two guys as the car wash for getting so upset about a towel when I couldn’t even remember what I was upset about!

So, there we were: two people who stand on stage as a part of the worship team, standing there arguing while other people worked around us to do what needs to be done. The mission of our church is to “Restore Hope and Love People to Life” but – at that moment in time – we were having a difficult time restoring hope and loving each other. But, thankfully, part of the “loving people to life” part of our belief system is creating an environment and providing teaching and small groups that help us all to realize that God is a loving and personal God who can speak right to our hearts in the exact way we hear Him best at the just the right time.

So…. even though I went to the car wash because I was so upset that I didn’t want to be around anyone (especially my husband at that particular moment) and I had a free hour or so my next church meeting (how ironic!), God knows me better than anyone one else does and knows that I have loved and respond well to “object lessons” since I was a little girl in Sunday School.  (My Mom used to have a book of them from when she taught Sunday School and I loved to read it.  I think even back then, God was showing me how much He loves to speak with His “kids” so He often does it through things we see, feel, hear, touch, or smell every day – if we’ll only take the time to see His gentle, loving, guiding hand in all the details).

So, although the whole thing at the car wash seemed pretty random – I believe it was anything but random.  God was trying to get my attention and teach me something as He so often and so faithfully does.  I was sitting in my Jeep tempted to judge these two guys (who – once calmed down by the officers – both seemed like very nice guys just having a very bad day), God reminded me of this verse:


Now….  I would like to think that whatever it was that created such an emotional torrent in me was a little bigger deal than a microfiber towel.  But, that being said…  even if it were the “biggest deal” I’ve ever faced, I have access to so much more than a nice man handing me a couple bucks to buy a new towel.  I am the daughter of the Creator of the universe who have promised throughout His Word and straight to my heart that He will meet my every need and intervene on my behalf.  So in light of that reminder my Father so graciously provided me at the car wash, I can let go of my “towel”.  Especially since my precious Savior and Redeemer picked up a towel to wash the feet of those who should have been bowing down at His feet.