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FORTY YEARS OF MAKING WHEELS GLEAM

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By LINDA G. RASTELLI

The building’s roof is somewhat swaybacked, and the slatted wood walls are fringed near the ground by the ravages of water. But it serves its purpose.

Likewise for the elderly pair who own this place.

Essie Dove may have lost a step over the years, but she still clambers in through open doors of her customers’ vehicles — many of them unimaginably large, by the automotive standards of half a century ago — to reach those awkward places that people a third her age might not bother with. And she keeps a brisk rotation of towels going in an operation that is all about clean terrycloth.

Essie’s husband, Dave, moves a little stiffly across the blacktopped yard and climbs a stepladder to clean the roof of an SUV. Realizing then that the spray can of cleaner he’s using is empty, Dave might find it easier to ask Essie to bring him a fresh one than to make the trek back to the storeroom himself. But he’ll clean that roof right to the center, a spot visible to pedestrians on overpasses but few others.

This is not one of those antiseptic new car washes, where you turn your vehicle over to a a giant machine that pulls it through a storm of soap and chamois while you watch, Starbucks in hand, through a window that might have been part of the flight deck of a Star Wars set.

This is Dave’s Car Wash on Bridge Avenue, where one sign touts the Simonizing and another declares that this is a hand car wash, just as it always has been.

It’s a place of challenging, if not grueling work, done by two of Red Bank’s most enduring presences.

The hours are long (8a to 5p, every day but Sunday), and because the work is done by hand, some vehicles take the better part of a day to get clean.

“You should see some of the cars we get in here. We find rotten apples, dirty diapers,” says Dave. “But then they come out looking like new,” he says with satisfaction, adjusting his baseball cap.

But 73-year-old wouldn’t trade it for any other work. He and Essie, who live in Red Bank, have taken only one vacation since they opened the business in 1967.

In the early days, they only had a pot-bellied stove for heat in freezing weather. “When you used the hose,” Dave says, “you might come back with your pants leg frozen.”

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Why do they do it? They love being around people all day. Besides, Dave, a man of few words, doesn’t believe in retirement.

“I don’t play golf,” he says. “Why would I want to stop working?”

The best part: seeing the customers’ reactions when they pick it up.

“They think we’re not going to be able to get it clean,” says Dave. He knows otherwise. Washing the car by hand enables you to reach places a machine can’t get to, he explains.

And there’s this advantage over the automatic washers: “The detergent’s not as strong, your car doesn’t get scratched,” he says.

On a day redbankgreen visited, Essie and their two grandsons, Dwayne and Dove Curetan, were attacking the cars from all angles with spray bottles and hoses. They aren’t rushed, but they aren’t slow, either. When they’re done, the cars look new.

Dove is recovering from having a rare type of non-cancerous tumor, “the size of a baseball” removed from his stomach, and his grandsons were helping out temporarily. The Doves raised three children — Donna, Deborah and David.

Dove says succeeding in business is not complicated. “We try to give a fair price and do a good job,” he says. “That’s all there is to it.”

That philosophy has paid off in loyal clients who return to have their cars hand-washed, polished and detailed by the hard-working couple, who have refused to hire help over the years.

One customer, Paul, was “a young kid,” Dave remembers, when Paul began bringing his “old brown Pontiac” in. Now, 30 years later, Paul lives in the Locust section of Middletown and brings his black convertible BMW 740 and his daughter’s Mercedes in regularly.

“We’ve been fighting for 30 years,” Paul jokes to Dave.

The Doves’ marriage has lasted more than 50 years. “So many people tell me they couldn’t work with the person they married,” Dove says with disbelief. “What’s the problem?”

Not that it was always smooth. Essie, two years younger, says, “I’d just go out back if we were having a problem. It blows over.”

Dave grew up in North Carolina, but came to New Jersey looking for work in 1959 and found it in Marlboro, at the state hospital. At night he moonlighted for Butch’s Car Wash on Newman Springs Road.

“That’s how you stay out of trouble, working,” he says. He learned how to detail cars at Butch’s, and became manager before leaving to start his own business.

He has no regrets, he says.

“It’s dirty work, but the money’s clean.”

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