It just might wash your cares away.
Who didn't love going through the car wash as a child? It was like an everyday amusement park ride. As an adult looking for thrills in a pandemic world where most things are closed, going to the car wash is still surprisingly entertaining. If you feel the same way, then you will love what Bobby Willis did to his Cool Wave WashPlex in Newport News, which opened in January 2021 off of Jefferson Avenue.
Willis has taken the amusement park idea and pushed it to the max. He makes over his car wash every week with a new theme complete with lights, sound effects, and smells. Although many innovative ideas for entertaining ourselves have arisen as a direct result of the pandemic, Willis's idea actually had its inception eight years ago, when he wanted to reinvent a mundane chore to be an exciting cinematic experience where something new would happen every inch of the car's short trip through the wash. He owns eight other Cool Wave car washes, but this is the only one that he has given the full cinematic works.
To make the dream a reality, Willis had to compile a creative team for lighting, sound effects, voice acting, and more. For light shows, he is collaborating with Illuminated Integration, a company based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania whose usual clientele includes cruise ships and casinos, among others. His son, a student at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, composes music for the mini-shows, and Willis himself frequently contributes his own talents as a voice actor. Willis has even matched aromas to each theme, leading him to ask questions such as, "What does an alien abduction smell like?" Apparently, the answer is cinnamon and cardboard. So far, the team has put on Dracula's Lair, Candy Land, Enchanted Forest, and the Circus. They change the theme every Thursday night, and they plan to put on a fully original production every new week: no repeats.
Aside from the creative effects, the merging of entertainment and car wash has required some specially engineered technology, too. The lighting system had to be designed to stand up to frequent modification due to weekly changes, plus it was built to be more resistant to water than usual outdoor lighting systems. Illuminated Integration examined lighting commonly used on cruise ships for inspiration. In addition, Willis chose to install a mat conveyor rather than an "over-under" conveyor to accommodate a wider variety of vehicles. He says it was three to four times more expensive to outfit this location than his others. He has no plans to apply the same treatment to his previous locations, but is considering modeling new locations after this one.
Willis believes he has created an experience that families can enjoy together, but he hopes to keep expanding and improving. At a time when we all need a little magic in the every day, what could be better than a magical car wash? Unicorn sightings? Maybe you'll see one in the Cool Wave WashPlex's Enchanted Forest.
What theme do you want to see next or which one have you enjoyed the most? Leave a comment below.