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Expressway: Making the car wash come clean

Photo credit: AP, 2010

Photo credit: AP, 2010 Photo Credit: AP, 2010

I printed a coupon from a website service recently for a $12 car wash in Bohemia, some distance from my home. When I finally found the place, I got in line behind a few other cars. When it was my turn, I presented my copy of the coupon and was told, "It's good."

As my car was washed, I went on to the cashier with my coupon, which offered a considerable saving from the usual $25 car wash. Behind the counter were a man, a woman and a girl perhaps 12 years old.

When I presented the coupon, the man looked at it and said, "This is no good, it doesn't have a barcode on it."

I replied, "Well, that's the way it printed, what you suggest we do now?"

The woman told him to get my email address and password for the coupon website and they'd take it from there.

Before another word was spoken, I volunteered, "I am willing to give you my email address, but there is no way I will give you my password."

The man then said, "Then, you have to pay full price." He wouldn't take the coupon.

They both walked away to take care of other customers.

I was left facing the girl on the stool. I asked her, "What's his name?" gesturing to the man.

The woman overheard me speak to the girl and began screaming.

"What? You involve a child, a child in this? How dare you, are you some kind of maniac? A child? A child?"

She called for a coworker, apparently a boss. Out came a burly, aggressive man who was plainly annoyed. He sauntered up, faced me and ordered, "Don't talk!"

He added, "Lady, you have two choices: Either you pay full price, or we take your car."

By now a small crowd gathered. I felt both humiliated and determined. I was neither giving them my password, nor was I going to pay full price. I struggled not to cry, I did not want to show them how frightened I was.

"Take my car," I said.

The man sputtered, huffed, puffed a bit and finally said, "We're calling the cops."

Now what, I wondered. Am I wrong? Can I be arrested? Can they take my car? Think, Sheila, what did you do wrong?

"Go ahead, call," I said.

The woman said something to him I did not hear, after which the man strolled away and said, "Gettin' the boss on this."

The boss came, stood beside me, studied the website coupon, repeated all that had been said about the barcode, and told me to pay full price or give my password.

From deep inside me came a refusal to be intimidated and the impulse to stand by my convictions.

"No, you have the choices," I said. "You can make a customer out of me for life, or you can never see me again and make an enemy. It's your decision, not mine."

He turned away and muttered to the other guy, "Take the $12."

I paid the money, ignored the crowd silently watching and waited for my sparkling clean car.

I gave the young man outside a very handsome tip.

Reader Sheila Bieber lives in Holbrook.