The "Smurf" will buff your Bentley.
Alvin Garrett, former Redskin, sits in the living room of his condominium near Herndon, a short drive from Redskins Park. Dressed in Redskins workout pants and a St. Louis Cardinals sweat shirt, he's talking about a new business intended to cater to Washington's executive car culture.
It's called "Alvin Garrett's Auto Cleaners," but its shorthand name might as well be "Dial-a-Wash."
Garrett, 29, is hoping that fond Redskins fans will like the idea of having their cars picked up at their offices and homes, washed by hand, and then delivered by the compact hero of the 1982-83 NFL playoffs. His one-man technique -- learned from his father Elmer back home in Mineral Wells, Tex. -- takes two to three hours per car and costs a minimum of $50. Working in an Arlington garage, Garrett caresses the hood with lamb's-wool buffers, shampoos the carpet and upholstery, polishes the dashboard and chrome, and degreases the engine.
While he does not scoff at servicing the occasional plain-Jane Ford, Garrett's target is the more cherished vehicles roaming the Washington area -- the Porsches, the Mercedeses, the BMWs and, of course, the limousines. By nature, this is a limo town; dark-blue and black barges glide through the Washington nights, and the sight of a dark-clad chauffeur dawdling at curbside is common.
But if Washington is a luxury car capital, it is also a town often transfixed by a basic combat sport. There is no formal fan club, and Redskins officials have no estimate of the number of supporters, but RFK Stadium is filled with 55,570 fans at each home game, 13,000 others are on a waiting list for season tickets, and hundreds of thousands more are glued to the TV. Television networks agree that, among viewers, the Dallas Cowboys, the San Francisco 49ers and the Redskins are the three most popular NFL teams.
These are fans that follow the Redskins wherever they go. And Alvin Garrett is banking on the hope that their patronage will extend to former Redskins.
Fans will remember that Jan. 8, 1983, was Garrett's glory day. Then a fourth-string wide receiver on a team with injured stars, he came from the bench to catch three touchdown passes. The Redskins' 31-7 victory over the Detroit Lions paved the way to the team's eventual Super Bowl win.
Garrett already had been known as one of the three small but swift "Smurfs" on that 1982-83 team, as well as a member of the seven-player troupe of sideline entertainers dubbed the "Fun Bunch." With the playoffs, he became a hero besieged for quotes -- heralded not only for his clutch performance, but also his 5-foot-7 height in a game of mammoth men.
In September 1983, Garrett gained attention of a different sort. During an ABC television broadcast of the Washington-Dallas game, commentator Howard Cosell described Garrett as a "little monkey," a remark some viewers interpreted as a racial slur. Garrett calmly countered that he thought Cosell looked like a little monkey. Garrett's wisecracking teammates began leaving bananas in his locker.
"I was the littlest person out there," Garrett said. "But when I walked out on the field, I was the meanest and the toughest. There was no fear in my heart."
But after injuring an ankle last fall, Garrett was placed on waivers by the Redskins before this season began. And now he is the main character in that old, inevitable story -- ex-professional athlete strikes out on a new career. For Garrett, that meant reaching into his past and adapting what he learned from his father to the area's high-powered vehicles and their convenience-seeking owners.
"I came from a poor family, and I always kept that in perspective," he said, discussing the transition from NFL player to car washer.
"I do miss those big checks on Monday, though," he added with a grin.
But for Garrett, the executive car washing business is appealing. He said he likes the independence of working for and by himself. He likes the prospect of rehashing past Redskins feats with customers. He likes the idea of picking up a dirty car and returning a sparkling coach.
"It's the perfectionist in me," he said. "If I'm satisfied, the customer is going to go wild. There's a technique to washing a car right."
Garrett started the business only a few weeks ago; his wife Adrian, an accountant and the mother of 2-year-old "Little Al," is the bookkeeper. One of the first things Garrett did was to blanket car windshields at the up-scale Tysons Corner shopping center with advertisements identifying himself as the "Smurf." His first customers were Redskins; he often plays golf or basketball with several of the players.
So much of Garrett's life has revolved around football: Was it better to have played briefly but admirably for a Super Bowl champion than to labor 15 years for a lackluster team?
Alvin Garrett, washer of fine cars, says yes.
"It felt good to make that many people happy, really happy," he said about the 1982-83 playoffs and the Super Bowl. "I don't care what I do in life, I can't top that."