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BOONE LIFE: Frozen assets

Twenty-five degrees: A car washing business hinges on a thermometer
Sunday, February 18, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:51 p.m. CST, Monday, February 9, 2009

The digital thermometer on the wall of Monroe’s Fast Lube and Car Wash in Centralia hovers at 25 degrees.

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Robert Monroe, the co-owner, calls the Columbia Weather Hotline to get a second opinion. A mechanical voice speaks in choppy syllables: “The current temperature is 22 degrees.”

“This weather is killing my business,” says Monroe, as he stares out past the blinking neon open sign in the window of the office. To open the automatic wash, the temperature must be higher than 25 degrees, or customers will be frozen into their cars. At 11 a.m., orange cones still block the washing bays.

A red Chevy Tahoe frosted with a thick layer of salt pulls in, only to turn around at the sight of the closed door of the automatic wash. A few minutes later, another car does the same. Then another.

As the sun reaches its peak, Monroe checks the temperature again. Finally, it’s warm enough. He fires up the automatic wash and removes the cones from the bays. Within 20 minutes, a line of heavily salted cars has formed in the parking lot.

“I picked a heck of a time to start up a business,” says Monroe, who opened the Fast Lube in August and the car wash three years ago. Before that, he worked for more than 30 years as a cardiology technician. He holds degrees in biology and cardiology from MU and retired from the field in 2001. He says he started the car wash because he was bored.

Monroe says cardiology and car maintenance have their similarities.

“It’s all about maintaining your fluids,” he says as he pumps Valvoline oil into a car in the garage.

For the next several hours, business picks up.

But as the sun falls, so does the temperature. By 5 p.m., the puddles in the washing bays have frozen over despite the floor-heating system. Monroe heads out to put the cones back up and turn off the automatic wash. It is too cold to leave the system running. He returns to the warm office and turns off the open sign. He checks the weather one more time before he leaves for the night.

Tomorrow’s forecast: sunny and cold.


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