Working at the Car Wash!
Garrett Morris, Pepe Serna, Henry Kingi and Leon Pinkney in Car wash American actors Garrett Morris, Pepe Serna, Henry Kingi and Leon Pinkney joking at the car wash in the film Car wash. 1976 (Photo by Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)
During the 1970’s, America was still getting used to the changing culture. Some of what was changing was the prominence of hippies, drugs and more relaxed morals. Many were beginning to tolerate, if not embrace, the changing social norms. That being said, the change was beginning to make its way to the big screen. Plenty of movies capitalized on the counterculture; mostly in a dramatic and sensational way.
When the movie, Car Wash, was released, it was like no movie we had ever seen. Although it was entertaining, it wasn’t sensational or pretentious. It was a movie about everyday people doing everyday things. The story revolved around a day in the life of the employees and patrons of a local car wash; hence the title of the movie.
In keeping with the sign of the times, the cast was very diverse. Characters included people from all social, economic, occupational, religious, ethnic and racial backgrounds. The characters were just people doing what people do… going to work and taking care of business! The multi-racial staff at the car wash was a tight-knit group for the most part, which is probably why it was so successful. They supported each other… differences and all.
Each character in the movie had his/her own life and backstory… not unlike real life. Some were dealing with relationship issues, some were trying to overcome their past issues, and some were being faced with legal issues. Sly, was an employee of the car wash and also a part-time bookie. He was ultimately arrested at the car wash; not for illegal gambling but for unpaid parking tickets. I know that sucks but that’s life, right?
If you have ever been fortunate enough to spend a leisurely day, in a public place, just “people watching,” then you have pretty much already seen the movie. At times, while going about the normal course of our lives, situations and people are thrust into our paths. It is said that truth can be stranger than fiction at times. Although Car Wash was a fictional story, the characters portrayed were not that unrealistic; all things considered.
The owner of the car wash was, Mr. B, was also known for being a cheapskate and being trapped in an unhappy marriage. His unhappiness was compounded by the fact that he was constantly stressed over the financial well-being of his business because of a nearby competitor. Mr. B. was a cad and made no apologies for shamelessly hitting on his receptionist.
• An African American, Muslim Radical;
• A con artist;
• A self-important (I don’t get wet) employee;
• An ex-con, Foreman;
• An obnoxious, male crossdresser;
• A young guy hell-bent on winning a radio contest to win back his former girlfriend;
• Two musicians waiting for their big break;
• A womanizer;
• A cowboy;
• An overweight guy who “hooks” up with prostitutes;
• A Latino;
• A Native American; and,
• A washed-up, middle-aged, white man.
In addition to the paid staff, Mr. B’s self-indulgent, over-educated, spoiled rotten, college co-ed son inserts himself into the mix. He feels like he is doing himself a “solid” and proving to the world that he is not like his father. He was along for the ride but never really contributed anything meaningful to the business. Instead, he stayed true to himself and caught a buzz in the restroom.
• An eccentric wealthy woman and her car sick son;
• A money-hungry, self-serving, Christian evangelist;
• A man who fit the profiled “pop bottle bomber”. (What was thought to be a bomb was actually a urine sample);
• A prostitute; and,
• A taxi driver (who was looking for the prostitute who ripped him off).
Keep in mind that all of the events portrayed in this movie took place within the time span of only one work day! In the end, none of the characters resolved their problems. Just like the rest of us… they all went home for the night, only to go back the next day to do it all over again. It was the epitome of reality!
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