No matter where I move in the city, I swear by getting my car washed on the far South Side at Buddy Bear Car Wash. It might seem trivial to drive past so many other car washes along the way, some as close as five minutes from my home, to come all the way here, but I have never second guessed it. There is something about being out south that makes the chore of washing and cleaning my car more bearable. Maybe it’s the people; when it’s hot outside the car wash is filled with folks hand washing their cars nearby, playing music, offering car air fresheners or microfiber towels, and politely maneuvering around each other. 

As I continue to become acquainted with adulthood, many of my formative car-related moments happened at Buddy Bear Car Wash. For example, when I lived all the way up north in Edgewater, I had a ticket stuck to my window for parking illegally. Before I could retrieve the ticket, it rained, causing the adhesive to fuse with the glass on my driver’s side. It seems small except I’d been borrowing the car from my dad for the past few months and needed to return it soon. So, I drove forty minutes to Buddy Bear where two young men offered to help me scrub the glue off of my window. They lent a hand without even being asked as they watched me scrape away at it. That is the kind of energy that lives at this specific car wash. I know that even if I pull up alone, I’ll be surrounded by good people and high spirits. 

Although I am now a proud owner of my own vehicle, I still run into situations where I need a hand. My dad bought me these striking red and black mats for my car’s interior, and as winter and spring departed I realized I needed to clean them for the summer. I’d always seen the mat cleaning machine, but I never dared to use it. One day, I decided to go to Buddy Bear knowing that it would be busy and full of people. I was genuinely banking on someone offering to help me use the machine and I was right. As I approached the machine with my mats, I didn’t stand there for long before a young man approached me and offered to show me how to use it. How did he demonstrate? He washed all four of my mats. When my mom needed her car cleaned, I took her and my brother to Buddy Bear and revealed that I’d finally learned how to use the mat cleaner. It was a seemingly small task we realized we never attempted to do because we simply did not know how. 

While these anecdotes are not necessarily life changing, they speak to the fact that feeling accounted for in the smallest of ways adds happiness to places and situations we least expect it. If I’m burnt out after running errands all day, taking my car to Buddy Bear feels like the least of my chores. If anything, the relaxing colors in the car wash and the satisfaction of sucking up crumbs from your backseat are therapeutic. This thought reminds me of the most important part: Buddy Bear offers free vacuuming with every car wash. I don’t have to dig around for coins to put into a machine, the car wash spits you out right into the lot where all the vacuums and garbage bins are located. And Buddy Bear knows a lil’ something about freebies: in December 2021, they gave out 10,000 free car washes!

Community can be found in the strangest of places, whether it’s teenagers using coins and credit cards to scrape glue off of glass or a master-class session on how to use the mat cleaning machine. As I become more aware of the world around me, I find myself cherishing even the smallest pockets where love and gratitude live. In the end, each patron at Buddy Bear is united by a central goal—we all hope that a bird does not poop on our windshield after all our hard work.

Buddy Bear Car Wash, 8644 S. Kedzie Ave. Daily 7am–9pm.

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