10th Birthday, Car Washes, and $62.82
--by JZ, posted Sep 2, 2006
It was Neil's 10th birthday party. After a dozen close friends super-soaked each other with water and stuffed themselves with food and cake, this sunny August morning party would be about a different kind of fun -- fun of giving.
Today, we decided to "tag" people with free car washes. First up were the signs. Taking all the art supplies and glitter and fancy colored pens, the kids sprawled all over the ground to create couple of large "Free Car Wash" signs; no matter how hard they tried to color inside the lines, these signs had "we are kids" written all over it.
Soon enough, we gathered up the sponges, towels and soap and headed to the driveway.
"Free Car Wash," we practiced our cheer on practically every car that drove by. To get our act together, though, we rolled in one of our own cars on the driveway. "Ok -- who is the pre-rinse team?" It was a silly question because the kids were busy pre-rinsing each other; everyone is the rinsing team! Eventually, we split up into pre-rinse, soap, rinse, drying and glass-cleaning teams. "I wanna to do the tires," Art proclaims with a sponge that was three times the size of his right hand. "Ok, fine, Art, you do the tires." We hadn't thought of detailing, but why not? :)
"Wait, don't waste all that water," one of the adults said with a smile that knew that if he repeated that sentence he would be doused with water. Yet another adult professed the virtue of quality control to no avail. Adults really didn't know how to play with water. :) Couple of kids went to a nearby street intersection to dance and sing their newly copyrighted "car-wash is good for the soul" jingle.
Just as we were about to finish with our trial car, a Toyota Four Runner shows up with a 60-something-year-old driver named Arthur. We were all so excited for our "first customer" that Arthur was all smiles before he even rolled up his windows.
As all the kids scrubbed and cleaned and sprayed the car, Arthur asked, "So why are you doing free car washes?" "Oh, it's one of their birthdays and they thought of doing something kind for someone else. Here take a smile card and remember to pay-it-forward." "Jee, that's really nice." With a big glee, he watched his car turn clean; you just knew that he was going to reach home and say, "Son, guess what happened today?" By the time it was time for him to go, we were almost friends. Kindness has a funny way of turning strangers into friends. "Would you mind taking a photo with the kids?" "Oh, sure. Why not?" He flashed his smile card in the left hand, a big smile on his face and the kids huddled all around him with foamy sponges, dirty towels, and acrobatic poses!
Dave was waiting in line. Same drill. His 1991 Nissan Maxima, we all concluded, looked like a 1992 Maxima by the time we were done with it. And Dave also became our friend. With a smile-card, he took a photo with the kids.
And so on it went.
We washed about 6 cars in the hour we were out there. Throughout the hour, we yelled at each car with "Free" "free" "free" -- even at the postman's van, we flashed the banners in ways that would make Vanna White look wimpy. Parents took photos, kids made up songs, and neighbors came outside to cheer on the charade, and everyone was either drenched or would "accidentally" get drenched. :)
Such car washes do cleanse your soul. We cleaned up quickly and got ready for round 2 of fun -- ice cream!
The plan was not only treat all the kids to ice-cream but have them treat random strangers to some ice-cream. So we all drove down to a nearby Baskin-Robbins and tried to explain the concept to the two high-school girls behind the counter. Understandably, they were confused. "You mean, you are going to pay for all the customers that come in?" "Yeah, just keep the tab running. See this guy, here ... it's his birthday and instead of giving him gifts, he and his friends are learning about generosity today." Neil was smiling, silently proud of doing this on his 10th birthday.
"Ok, so you want us to take orders from customers, give the ice-cream to the kids who will then give it to the customers and explain why it's free?" "Yup." The two girls, Annie and Rianna were happily elated to partake in a "never seen anyone do this before" adventure. Even their boss came outside to see what was going on. :)
First up, a young, Russian couple who didn't speak fluent English. One of the kids went up to him and tried to explain it -- "It's my friends birthday and we want to make others smile, so this ice-cream is for you and this," he says by handing him a smile card. Happily, the buffed-up guy looks to the board and orders the most-expensive item -- a banana split. :)
Two middle-school Chinese boys show up next with their allowance money in their hands. They try to refuse our offer but when you have kids saying, "We are trying to learn about generosity by treating you to ice-cream", even shy customers succumb. Not only that, they flashed their newly earned smile card and took a group photo with everyone.
Customers kept coming in, and each of the kids would take turns in coming up to them and *trying* to explain the pay-it-forward concept and just give these strangers ice-cream. It was absolutely the cutest thing. One woman said she couldn't accept it because she was getting a 35-dollar birthday cake for her son's 13th birthday but she was going to go home and share the story with them. Some customers, who were probably parents themselves, would take the time to interact with the kids, ask counter questions and tell them things like, "You know, I don't think anyone unknown to me has ever bought me anything. Thank you."
Annie and Rianna, the two girls behind the counter, were totally floored. They kept a whole stack of smile-cards themselves; "We're gonna give this to all our friends. I have never ever seen anyone do this ... or in fact, I have never even heard of anyone doing this. This is so cool." Both Annie and Rianna became our best buddies too. They said our total was $62.82 but quite honestly, I felt like they must've given us some kind of a employee discount or something because Baskin-Robbins ice-cream never felt this affordable. :)
Before we dispersed, we talked about small things that all kids could do. The kids chipped in their lofty, imaginative ideas :) and with that energy, we went back to our cars. On the way back, Art -- the kid who was detailing the tires during the car wash -- tells me that it's the most fun he's had at a birthday party.
Me too, Art. I saved the $62.82 receipt as Neil's 20th birthday gift. I'm sure he'll remember.
By the way; neil has great parents!
Thank you so much.