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Life out here a viewpoint by Bret Kofford: Pooling resources

July 04, 2001

CALEXICO — As I pull into the automated car wash and my predecessor pulls out, three kids emerge to dry the car in front of me.

"Hmmm," I think. "I didn't see any kids in that car when we both were waiting in line."

As my car is washed, jiggled, waxed and blown dry by the mechanical monster, through the suds and such I see the three little ones hand-drying the car outside with vigor.

"That sure looks like a nice little family outing," I think as I watch the kids work because I have nothing better to do while trapped in the machine.

"The little girls are kind of stout considering their dad is skinny," I continue thinking. "And considering that guy in front of me has Mexicali plates and appears to be a member of ‘la crema' class, those kids are kind of scruffy."

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Then the other driver pulls away, I pull out of the car wash structure and the three little ones stay at their work stations.

"Oh, they're working," I say to myself.

I am many things, but the swiftest guy in the world I am not.

I stop to the let the junior work crew work on my car with their soaked little rags. While my car has already been through the dry cycle in the car wash, patches of droplets remain.

"Cuanto cuesta?" I say, because it has been my experience that kids in Calexico who are working, particularly on a hot afternoon like this one, are more comfortable in Spanish than English.

"Whatever you want to pay," says the oldest member of the little working family in perfect English. She appears to be about 9 or 10 and is a freckle-faced, take-charge type. "We're trying to get enough money to go swimming."

"Are you going to the high school pool?" I ask.

"Yes," the girl says efficiently as she and the other two quickly begin drying my car with their wet rags.

"It's about $1 each to go there, right?" I ask

"About that," says the girl as she continues to wipe.

"It's getting hot," says her younger sister, who appears to be about 8 with even more freckles than her sister, as she too works on drying my car. Also buffing is their little brother, who appears to be about 6, maybe 7.

"It's been hotter lately, but it is hot today," I say. "It will be a good day for a swim for you guys, I think."

Then there is some commotion back in the mechanical washing area.

"He doesn't know what he's doing," says the older sister of the elderly gentleman pulling his sedan into the wash structure. "He probably doesn't know about putting in the numbers to get it to start. I think he needs help."

She confidently strides back into the car wash machinery as she motions and tells the man, "atras, or in Spanish, "back up." As he does she follows him back to where he can enter a code to start the machine.

Meanwhile, the smaller siblings are talking to me.

"Did you see my other brother's name in the newspaper?" the younger sister asks, and I wonder for a second if she knows I have a vague connection to the newspaper. "He got caught stealing in the store. And my little brother here stole some candy the other day for a little while, but me and my sister found out and made him put it back."

The little guy smiles an embarrassed smile, revealing a salad of baby teeth, crooked adult teeth and empty spaces.

"It's never good to steal," I tell the little guy. "It's a better idea to work like you guys are doing if you need money."

Then I think how heartless that sounds.

The older sister returns. I look back and the guy behind me is now safely ensconced in the washing structure.

In just a couple minutes of wiping the kids are done with my Toyota. Even with their wet rags, they have done a darn good job of de-spotting my car.

I reach into my wallet and give the kids all my $1 bills, which probably is more than they expected but not as much as I should give.

"Is that enough?" I ask.

"Yes," they all say.

"Well, have fun swimming," I say and drive off.

I know for kids like these, life is usually rough, with the occasional beautiful moments such as being able to swim in a cool, fresh pool. They'll get one of those moments today. They deserve it.

By the end of this month, most of us will be getting $300 or $600 federal tax refunds. But our joy in all that will not compare to the joy found by three kids in earning enough to swim in the municipal pool in Calexico on one hot summer day.

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