Car Wash Offers A Clean Start

Thomas MacMillan PhotoSix months out of drug rehab, David Murray lathered up a white 2007 Jaguar XK8 convertible, continuing his recovery—and the planet’s—with the help of soap and microfiber shammies.

Murray, who’s 26, is one of two team leaders at the Green Machine, an environmentally friendly hand car wash that opened recently at 1570 Whalley Ave., near the northbound exit off the Wilbur Cross Parkway.

The venture was hatched by the APT Foundation, which treats people with mental illness and substance abuse problems. The car wash employs people in recovery, giving them a chance to learn some job skills and steady themselves with employment.

APT social worker Dan Iead, who’s in charge of the day-to-day operations at the Green Machine, offered a tour of the facilities one morning this week.

The car wash occupies a space at the back of a Sunoco gas station. The space was occupied by a regular automated, machine car wash until last August, when APT took over and began converting it to a hand-wash operation.

APT clients took out all the machinery, which the gas station owner sold, and replaced it with power washers and compressed-air equipment.

The Green Machine uses only environmentally friendly cleaning liquids, Iead said.

“You could drink this stuff, he said, “but I wouldn’t recommend it.”

After an 8-month delay when the gas station replaced its tanks, the car wash got started in earnest this spring. Murray and 51-year-old Timothy Dube serve as team leaders, earning $9 dollars an hour. As APT employees, they also have retirement benefits and health and dental insurance, Iead said. Other APT clients work shifts as short-term stipend employees for six weeks at a time.

APT clients getting out of treatment have trouble finding jobs. “Lots of clients have past histories and gaps in work histories that present problems for them when seeking employment,” said Bob Freeman, director of clinical operations at APT. By creating its own business, APT can start those clients off with employment that may help them get other jobs.

“Without employment, the prognosis for continued recovery is not good,” Freeman said.

At the car wash, “we can work on their issues with holding employment,” Iead said. That includes timeliness and self-esteem, he said. Iead plays a role that’s more like a coach than a traditional boss, he said.

To make ends meet, the car wash will need a critical mass of cars coming through. “Thirty to 40 cars a day would hit the mark,” Iead said. So far, the operation clean between six and 18.

“People typically wash their car five times a year,” Iead said. And 64 percent of car washes are spur-of-the moment decisions, he said, rattling off statistics he learned from the head of Splash car washes, who’s been an informal advisor. The Splash chain has an outlet on the same block as the Green Machine.

The Green Machine is starting to pick up some regular customers, including people who may be fussy about their expensive cars and seek the special attention of a hand wash.

Murray and Dube (pictured vacuuming) demonstrated their technique on Iead’s black Chevy truck, before Stuart Rosenkrantz showed up in his white Jaguar convertible. A repeat customer, Rosenkrantz said he goes the the Green Machine because, unlike other car washes, “they actually get the windows clean.”

Rosenkrantz selected the Silver Express wash package: “Full service exterior hand car wash, towel dry, tire shine.” Iead threw in an interior windshield washing for free.

Murray sprayed down the Jaguar then lathered it up with soapy microfiber mitts, which are laundered every night in the washing machine in the store room, Iead said.

After a rinse off and some special scrubbing of the Jaguar’s rims, Murray pulled the car forward for the drying stage.

Murray and Dube squeegeed the water off and then used compressed air hoses and hand cloths to seek and remove all traces of moisture from the vehicle.

After a final tire treatment, the Jag was spotless and shiny. Rosenkrantz paid $16.95 for the job. The Green Machine’s packages start there and go up to the $149.95 “Bumper to bumper” treatment. The car wash also offers pick-up and delivery of customer cars.

The prices are higher than an automated car wash, Iead said. But it’s a good deal when you consider the detailed attention your car receives, he said.

After ringing up Rosenkrantz, Murray reflected on his road to car-washing. He said he ended up at APT after getting addicted to painkillers. He was in treatment for eight months and has been out for six.

“Employment is a big deal,” Murray said. He said he really wanted a job when he was getting out, to make sure he didn’t “go back to doing what I was doing before.”

Murray said he’d eventually like to work in addiction services. He said he’s starting classes at Gateway to prepare himself.

Freeman credited APT CEO Lynn Madden and board president Rev. David Parachini “for their vision and dedicating funds” to get the car wash up and running.

A call came in: a particular Audi owner was looking for his car to be picked up for a hand waxing. Dube headed out to pick up the car, and maybe win the business of another regular customer.

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posted by: Charl on July 13, 2012  5:24pm

New Haven Independent:  *THIS* is the type of local journalism society needs!  I will be certain to patronize Green Machine, as I believe this is a cause worth supporting.

If a drug addict truly wants to change his life, and goes to a hospital for detoxification, and goes to a 30-, 60-, 90-day (or longer) rehabilitation program, and has success that is a blessing from above.  I agree with the writer, in that the success rate for long term and permanent sobriety is much better for an individual with employment.

Self-esteem, especially with regard to the male psyche, is directly correlated to employment and the concept of ‘working.’  If a person can not find meaningful, fulfilling employment which also means a lack of income, then the self-image, self-esteem, and outlook on life for said individual is dramatically lower than it should be.

It is easy to imagine how someone who has put in weeks and months (or even years) of hard work to achieve sobriety could be willing to ‘give up’ and ‘throw it all away’ because ‘this is all B.S. anyway’ and ‘I knew this was gonna happen’ when they can not obtain employment. 

There are plenty of drug addicts who truly do not want to get clean… But in the case of people who really are trying: I want to try and help them, encourage them, and build them up however I can.  And, if I can go spend $17 on a hand car wash, and drop a $5 tip, all the better.

Final thoughts:
1) A hand car wash really is so much better, and a $17.00 price-point is actually an excellent price!

2) My initial reaction to the article was: “This Murray kid is never going to get a job anywhere else now!  Here is his name, photo, and drug history, forever on the internet!”
Upon contemplation, though, I realized that he likely has a criminal record which precludes him from many employers.  If that be the case, this article might serve as proof to his dedication to being a sober, working, man.

posted by: DEZ on July 14, 2012  6:58am

APT CEO Lynn Madden rocks!  Great vision.

posted by: Born&Raised; on July 16, 2012  6:11pm

It’s nice to see some change for people who have had addictions given a form of a chance in New Haven. Shockingly down on Whalley Ave.