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Car Wash Economics

(You have the unedited version today! My ‘editor’ is out with another one of her friends today and I’m so happy she’s having a good time…)

I limited my time on the porch Saturday morning. Margaret’s friend, Mary, came over early after she got off work for the Friday overnight. They were going shopping at the upscale resale shops in Dallas to find a dress for Margaret to wear to our son’s wedding. It does my heart good to see her get out and about. Still, I wasn’t prepared for the high dose of estrogen in the conversation on the porch so at sought the solace of my office…

I love Saturday and Sunday mornings. I take time to catch up on the reading I missed during the week. The coffee always seems to taste just a wee bit better than on weekdays. The newsfeed has more ‘feel good’, human interest stories since it’s a slow news day. The mood is much more relaxed, and the hurry of the weekday work schedule is absent. The ‘To-Do’ list will get attention in due time. On the weekend things will either get done or they won’t, if you know what I mean…

Margaret managed to last all day and into the evening on Saturday. She was anxious to tell me of their adventures and believe me, ‘resale-ing’ is an adventure for her. I’m thankful for her friend Mary, and her patience in helping Margaret get around – getting the wheelchair in and out of the truck, previewing shops, wheeling her across rugged parking lots, and so forth. We are richly blessed by the people in our lives.

Margaret and I live simply. The quiet little cul-de-sac where we reside is peaceful. When we first bought our house, the westside of Fort Worth and the suburb was nowhere on our radar, but we’ve decided our house was a gift just waiting for us to move in. We’re not well-to-do, but we are rich in friends and family. We have issues like everyone else. They just don’t seem to be a big deal anymore. I’d like to think that we’re becoming wiser as we age, but I’m not sure that’s the case. It simply doesn’t require much to be happy.

Finances grew tighter after her back surgery three years ago. Going from two incomes to one hasn’t always been easy, but the money situation doesn’t stress us out like it used to. My friend Jim used to tell me that true happiness comes from ‘wanting what you have and not just having what you want’. We have a happy life, even when the shadier side of life rears its ugly head. Things and ‘stuff’ aren’t so important to us. If there’s any extravagance in our lifestyle it’s that we spend more than we should on eating out with our family and friends. I guess that’s why Margaret’s tale of yesterday’s adventures was so revealing about the life we live.

Apparently, they sought out some ‘upscale’ resale and consignment shops in North Dallas as the dress they were searching for was something between an evening gown or cocktail dress. Now I’m no stranger to classy occasions but I lean toward practicality. Our son, who wanted to buy a dress for Margaret, didn’t want her to have something used. She explained to him that there was no sense spending a small fortune for something that would only get worn a couple of times (we don’t get that fancy very often either…). A pretty dress is pretty whether you’re the first-time owner or the second. Still, when they ended up running into our son in Big D, they managed to find their way to a fancy, dress boutique. I won’t give all the details, but it was obvious some people live far more extravagantly than us. North Dallas is a different beast than what we’re used to…

Their shopping trip started me thinking about an experience with a friend of mine sometime back and how I look at the world around me. I was doing some work at his house and as I was finishing up, he asked if I would mind running his BMW to the car wash for him. Quite frankly, I was happy to, especially since I’m a truck kind of guy. I was extra careful driving to the car wash. When I arrived I asked for the wash package he wanted. I was shocked by the thirty-dollar price tag, but hey, I wasn’t paying for it. When they were finished, I said thanks and drove off. On the way back, it occurred to me that maybe I was supposed to tip the car wash guys.

I didn’t say anything about it until I got home and asked Margaret if I had been ‘one of those customers’, you know, the ones that don’t tip. I’ve been in the service industry. I’ve lived on tips.  I strive never to be ‘one of those guys’ and probably tip too much. I had to admit that in all my sixty years I’d never been to a car wash before. Margaret was amazed. Even though I was slightly embarrassed I kept thinking why would I pay somebody thirty bucks to do what I could do myself?

I get it though. Sometimes you pay for convenience. I’ve been there. I’ve been known to do the same on occasion. Even when I can afford to do so, I find myself feeling somewhat uneasy about paying for it. I’m not a tightwad by any means but if I feel a little irresponsible with our finances when I do so. I’ve thought a lot about why I feel this way and others don’t.

My friend with the sports car says it’s about a poverty mindset and how I look at money. He gave me a book called Money Drunk Money Sober by Julia Cameron and Mark Bryan. I was struck by many of the traits indicative of a ‘poverty drunk’. I was raised in an upper middle-class home by two parents who struggled and survived the Great Depression. Although I never went without, there was an attitude of scarcity pervading our home. The pantry was always stocked, and we never bought anything that wasn’t on sale (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), but there was a constant ‘what if’ in the air. I guess that’s why I chased the big money for so long in my career. According to Cameron and Bryan, this is also characteristic of poverty addicts.

Looking back, I was driven by the idea of fear and scarcity. I lived waiting for the proverbial ‘other shoe to drop’. If my upbringing started it, the constant media bombardment added some rocket fuel to the mix. The message that I wouldn’t be good enough unless I had this or that new car, house, or thing-a-ma-jig was constant. No wonder I always wanted more – more money, more ‘stuff’ – and if I didn’t have those things, I could always dull the pain of inadequacy with either chemicals or self-righteous judgement of others (a form of manufactured saintliness and feigned higher moral values). Old patterns are hard to break.

I’m grateful that my self-worth is no longer contingent on my acquisition of wealth. I don’t find any virtue in poverty either. I’ve been with and without money. Believe me, I’d rather have it – it buys convenience – than not have it, but I’ve learned to be happy either way (most of the time). I still struggle with undervaluing my work and have difficulty asking customers for money that I worked for. As much as I’d like to think it’s because I’m introverted and socially awkward, the reality is my much deeper fight for self-worth. Some of you know exactly what I mean…

The more I pondered this idea of poverty drunkenness and addiction, the deeper I had to go inside myself. Did I believe I was more spiritual or virtuous if I had less stuff than others? It isn’t more virtuous or spiritual to be poor than it is to be wealthy. Money and what it can buy may be society’s metric for success, but it is based on the idea of scarcity – there just isn’t enough to go around. There’s always going to be the ‘haves and have not’s’? That’s only true if economics is based on the law of scarcity. When the basis for my economics changed, my metrics changed.

The deeper and more intimate my relationship with God has become, the more my perception of scarcity began to change. Looking back over the years, God has always taken care of me, 100% of the time, despite my efforts to do otherwise. Slowly, I’ve moved from a position of worry and ‘what ifs’ to a place of trust. My value comes from outside myself. It’s no longer about who I am, but whose I am. My economic perceptions slowly shifted to God’s economics, the economics of abundance, the idea of ‘enough’. There’s enough to go around. Life has become much simpler, and far less worrisome as a result. What’s wildly ironic is that the more I give away, the more I have…

Having said all this, I’ve come to a place where, at least for the most part, I don’t judge according to one’s pocketbook or social standing nor do I particularly care if others judge me that way or not. The measure of a man is not in what he has but what he gives away. It doesn’t matter where he falls on the wealth scale. I know of incredibly wealthy folks who greedily hang onto to every penny and people without a proverbial “pot to piss in’ who give outlandishly.

After hearing tales of Margaret and Mary’s adventure in North Dallas I still find it a little incredulous that one would be upset by the idea of used clothes, especially when a new dress is marked down from $700 to $100 (seriously, true story…). Then again, I’ve become a jeans and tee shirt kind of guy. Dressing up is a good pair of ironed and starched blue jeans with a button-down dress shirt. Comfort seems to exceed to need for fashion statements. I’m okay with that

After our morning coffee and the recollection of their adventure Saturday, I got up, cleaned house and worked on a shelf I’m building out of recycled lumber. As I was waiting on the stain to dry, I went out and washed my truck, in the driveway, by myself. I need to tell you that it looked pretty good and I didn’t have to tip anyone…

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