talking' bout the carwash

I made my first trip to my local car wash last weekend. In the true tradition of old school neighborhood vehicular shine spots... this place was alive with people and music. Everyone playing a unique and vital role in the seamless movement from interior vacuum to window wash to hubcap scrub to wheel well wax... it was fun.

It reminded me of being a child... manually pushing down the radio antennae and then waiting eagerly with my brother because our parents were going to let us ride in the back of the light blue wood panel Buick Regal station wagon as it made that long mechanical march through the tunnel of water, soap, and gimungous spinning brushes.

But I'm no longer a child and so for better or worse... my antennae is tuned into a different station. What my receiver picks up is not the dynamic of the machine... but mechanics if the people that sustain it.

From my turn into the car wash driveway to the vacuum station and then to my solo walk down the long time warp corridor, in which I can vaguely make out blinking signs beyond the looking glass that say things like "Applying Turtle Wax NOW", I am greeted with brown face after brown face after brown face....which makes sense... black neighborhood... black people working at the car wash. No surprises there... but as I approach the ancient sign that reads "Cashier" I am greeted by a middle-aged Asian man and woman.... again no surprises. Asian entreprerneurs have a long listory of investing comercially in predominently black neighborhoods. Nevertheless, the man then leaves the cashier booth and begins to berate the noticeably idle employees on drying duty outside the vehicle exit. It was unpleasant to watch... he was an angry boss... talking down to his employees... needless to say...I didn't like the situation.

Here's the rub...

No one likes to see people getting yelled at and treated badly... fine... and no one likes to pay people to stand around... fair...but what role does race and culture play in my ability to see this situation clearly. What predispositions am I bringing to this observation?

and most importantly...

  • How can I, as a professional, incorporate a keen understanding of this perception/reality of my neighborhood paradigm into design?
  • How can thoughtful design make the owner less likely to yell, and the employee less likely to idle?