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'Where's Your Sense of Romance?' It's at the Carwash

October 31, 1994|JACK SMITH

My wife and I drove to Riverside the other day to visit Air Force Village West, a place I had not heard of until I received an invitation from a resident, Christine Thompson.

It was an adventure.

Thompson suggested we arrive at 3:30 in the afternoon, so we would have time to be shown around before dinner. Not knowing how long the drive would take we allowed plenty of time, intending to have lunch on the way.

We looked for a place to stop, but Riverside County can be rather desolate. We took Highway 60 to Highway 215 and finally turned into an off-the-road place that looked like a restaurant. It was a welding shop.

Finally we came to a place called Box Springs and decided it must support some civilized amenities. We turned off and found ourselves at a Shell gas station. No restaurant was in sight, but my wife noticed that the station had one of those little stores that sell sandwiches and bottled drinks.

She parked the car, went into the store and came out with Cokes and sandwiches in plastic boxes. She moved the car to a shady spot and we began to eat our lunch.

Only a couple of nights earlier we had been on the way to an event at the Screen Writers Guild, and having too little time to stop for dinner, we had picked up two fat sandwiches and Cokes at a sub shop. We ate the sandwiches while my wife was driving and arrived in time.

Dinner in a moving car is not exactly haute cuisine, but it is part of life in Los Angeles.

"This is really class," I said as I munched a ham and cheese at the Shell station and sipped Coke through a straw.

"Where's your sense of romance?" she said.

There was a shed 50 yards or so ahead of us with an open door under a sign that said "Entrance." It was a carwash.

"Do you want to get the car washed?' my wife said.

"You mean while we're eating lunch in it?"

"Where's your sense of humor?"

I had to go to the men's room. It turned out to be next door to the carwash. The door was open with a broom angled across it. An attendant appeared. He said "You can use that one," pointing to the next door women's room. I went to the women's room while my wife stood guard.

Meanwhile the man told her that the carwash was free for customers. You had to have a ticket. My wife went to get a ticket and came back and we got in the car. She headed for the carwash. It was automatic. You drove in over a button and it started up.

We were enveloped in the dark shed and suddenly water sprayed us from all sides. Then we were surrounded by thrashing strips of chamois like Satan's tongues. I was gripped by claustrophobia.

In our shining car we reached the clubhouse of Air Force Village West, a nonprofit corporation. Thompson and others were waiting for us.

Don Green, a resident, put me in his car and we began to tour the village. My wife was taken in another car.

Air Force Village West was started in 1989 by Gen. Curtis E. LeMay and other retired officers on 153 acres of surplus land purchased from March Air Force Base. It now numbers about 400 dwellings with about 500 residents--retired officers and their spouses, or widows.

Green drove me through the village past blocks of terra cotta houses with red tile roofs. The houses were similar to one another but no house was exactly like its next-door neighbor.

We drove along streets named after Arnold, LeMay, Spaatz, Twining and other famous flying officers. The houses sat behind aprons of green lawn. At one point we crossed the path of 10 or 12 people in wheelchairs, disabled residents on an outing.

My wife and I noticed the various public rooms were spotless. No dust. No trash. Bouquets of fresh flowers everywhere.

The village has all the amenities of country club living, plus a skilled nursing center for those residents who need care.

There is an excellent library, especially strong on military subjects. All its books were donated by residents. The facilities also include a beauty and barber shop, billiard room, bridge club, cable television, golf, gun club, needlework, swimming pool, tennis courts and a watercolor class.

Before dining we went into a bar, where I refreshed myself with a vodka tonic. In the intimate dining room, I had red snapper and white wine. My dinner companions were charming.

It seemed the best of all possible worlds, especially for retired officers and spouses who may be a little weary of the metropolitan rush and crush.

On the way home we bypassed Box Springs, but we'll always remember that romantic interlude.


* Jack Smith's column is published Mondays.

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