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Penn Hills car wash offers a clean break from dirty politics

| Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, 11:59 p.m.
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Splash Touchless usually is a nondescript, five-bay car wash across from Alcoma Plaza on Saltsburg Road. But during this campaign season, it was transformed into a place for people to telegraph their presidential preference while sprucing up their cars’ appearance. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Democracy can be a dirty business. Seldom does it come with a high-pressure wash and a spot-free rinse.

That's what makes what's transpiring in Penn Hills so unusual.

Splash Touchless usually is a nondescript, five-bay car wash across from Alcoma Plaza on Saltsburg Road. But during this campaign season, it has been transformed into a place for people to telegraph their presidential preference while sprucing up their cars' appearance by providing it a long-lasting triple-foam shine.

The two automatic wash bays have become damp voting booths large enough to accommodate SUVs and small trucks. If you want to vote for President Obama, pull in to the bay on the left, naturally. If you want to vote for Mitt Romney, use the bay on the right, of course. The washing options are computerized, so owner Scott Glover knows exactly how many people come through.

“People are pretty passionate about their candidate,” said Glover, 52, of Plum. “I got a call from a woman who was upset that she had to go through the Obama side because she didn't want to wait in line for the Romney side. I assured her this wasn't the real election and told her if she wanted her vote counted correctly that I would make the adjustment.”

This is the second presidential election Glover has attempted to take the public's political pulse while they cleanse their cars. In 2008, he said, “We thought it would be interesting to try, and the results came pretty close to mirroring what happened nationally with Obama and (Republican presidential nominee John) McCain.”

Glover tabulates the votes daily and displays the results on the LED sign at the car wash entrance and on its Facebook page (http://on.fb.me/RDo5XK). Obama has clung to a slight lead during early voting — unsurprising given Penn Hills' historic Democratic voter registration edge of more than 2 to 1.

On Friday, in what only could be considered a deliberate attempt at voter suppression, Mother Nature threatened rain during my visit to the car wash. Turnout understandably was low during my stay, with only a single vehicle voting during the half-hour.

The woman behind the wheel, Tina Stefanovich, cautioned that no assumptions should be made about her politics just because she pulled up to the Romney bay. Not particularly fond of either candidate, she said, “If there was a third (automatic wash bay), I would have used that one.”

While Stefanovich, 35, of Penn Hills said she finds Glover's promotion amusing, she wasn't interested in discussing politics as she ordered the $7 express wash.

“I'm just here to get the bird poop off my car,” she explained.

It's the apolitical people with poop problems that Glover said he is afraid of alienating and sending off to car washes that emphasize detergents more than the democratic process.

“I hope everyone realizes this is all in good, clean fun,” he said.

That shouldn't be difficult. The fun's occurring at a car wash offering triple-foam shine.

How can it be anything but clean?

Eric Heyl is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7857 or eheyl@tribweb.com.

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