Working to keep the wheels from coming off

Sidney Bass has worked for various Laguna Beach businesses for more than 20 years. He now runs his own car detailing service. Photo by Barbara McMurray

By Barbara McMurray, Special to the Independent

Until a few months ago, Sidney Bass was earning enough between gig driving and car detailing to make ends meet, but coronavirus put the brakes on that.

“I used to make $300 a day driving for Uber,” he said. When the idea of getting into a stranger’s car for a ride suddenly became unthinkable, Bass’s primary revenue stream dried up. He has pivoted to generating income through his one-man car detailing business, Sidney’s Detail, using skills acquired ten years ago at trade school in San Diego.

Bass takes working on people’s vehicles during the pandemic seriously, offering touchless service to clients at their location. Once scheduled with a customer, he arrives in mask and gloves, texting them with details of his social-distancing protocol for his waterless technique. He asks clients to leave their vehicle in an accessible area and make any inquiries from a safe physical distance or via text or phone. After a meticulous cleaning that can take up to four hours, his last step is to thoroughly sanitize every door handle, steering wheel, control panel, turn signal, and window lever with isopropyl alcohol.

The 52-year-old takes enormous pride in his work, detailing each vehicle, whether a Rolls-Royce or a Prius, until it looks like it just rolled off the showroom floor.

Bass had few advantages growing up. “I raised myself,” he said, “As a teenager, I fell into the heart of South-Central Los Angeles. I don’t blame my mother. She did what she could as a black woman.” His youth in Los Angeles coincided with the regime of Los Angeles Police Chief Darryl Gates and the Rodney King trials as background noise.

When Las Vegas boomed in the early 2000s, Bass followed. He then tried out New York City before returning to Southern California. Landing in Laguna Beach, he couldn’t believe his luck. In 1999, he secured work as a bagger at Albertson’s grocery store and the front desk of the now-defunct Jump Start Fitness, signing up new members, cleaning equipment, and folding towels. There Bass met club member Sally Anne Sheridan, an arts-loving Laguna resident who served as the mayor of Irvine in the early 1990s. She and her husband Don helped Bass connect with what turned into an extensive local network of auto detailing clients. 

Further setbacks and false starts ensued, some of which Bass admits resulted from poor decisions. He’s grateful for new clients as he rebuilds, working to pay off debt—all during a pandemic. He acknowledges these aren’t easy goals, especially in a time where economic inequality grows daily. But Bass has retooled for the digital era, with an Instagram feed and a website that he hopes will help expand his business. He is determined to overcome past hurdles and remain self-employed. 

“I’m willing to work seven days a week if I can get the jobs,” Bass said. “I love the people of Laguna Beach. This town has been good to me.”

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