Every day on my way to work I drive past a strip mall on River Road, and one morning I turned into the parking lot just as the sun was coming up. Or so my cell phone said. The fog wasn’t dense, but there was enough of it that the amount of light in the sky didn’t appreciably change.

Hiding in its own lot next to the far south end of the mall, after the dark-windowed nail salon and the seemingly always open poker deli, was this light-reflecting jewel, the Anytime Car Wash. In nearly twenty years of living here I’d never really paid attention to it before, but right away I fell in love with the way its corrugated metal exterior bends the hazy dawn, and its grimy vinyl walls radiate back the fungus-tinted fluorescent lamplight. The whole dilapidated edifice shines with damp, do-it-yourself, 4-in-the-morning effort.

And there’s a dog wash in back, too.

I guess the neighborhood will be my project for a while.

Also: I thought I’d be a good citizen and ask the River Road Dari Mart if they minded if I went around back and took some pictures of their drive-thru–another east-facing wall that catches the rising sun and renders it in glorious grunge. But my friendly request seemed to alarm the manager behind the counter, and she informed me very sternly that I’d need to get clearance from the main office, which didn’t open until eight o’clock. I should’ve listened to my husband, a more experienced photographer, who told me to shoot first and ask forgiveness later.

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