by Jane M. Bailey
The first time I met a laundromat was at the Jersey shore where our family went for vacation. At some point, Mom would put the family’s laundry in the backseat of our Volkswagen beetle and tell my sisters and me to sit on top of the pile. There were no seatbelt requirements then. I don’t know what Dad was doing, but it wasn’t laundry. Off we girls went to spend precious vacation time washing clothes.
Mom parked us kids in front of tumbling colors. “Watch the kaleidoscope,” she’d order and go off with the clothes pile to perform machine magic. Hours later, we’d head back to the beach house to put our bathing suits back on and get a new batch of sand on the clean towels.
My college dorm had its own laundromat. I learned that Sunday afternoons were the worst time to do laundry as students vied to cram clothes into machines and homework into our heads. Friday and Saturday nights were good for finding empty machines if you were one of the dateless-types. I fit that category so spent many weekend evenings washing clothes.
When I finally got a boyfriend (who is now my husband), we started doing laundry together. It seemed very romantic, for about one weekend. Somehow ‘our’ laundry became mine to wash. After all, it’s cheaper that way, right?
One joy of marriage and home ownership was having a washer and dryer at home. I left clothes languishing with no one breathing down my neck or emptying the dryer before clothes were dry. Of course, the languishing bit meant many mildewy-smelly loads.
On a recent trip to visit family in Virginia, my daughter’s washing machine broke. Mema (aka Me!) volunteered to take all laundry to the laundromat. “Mom, don’t shrink Parker’s school uniform and can you take Rhys with you? He can do his homework there.
“Sure,” I replied as I thought,..and help Mema!
We drove to a local laundromat and I handed half the laundry bags to eleven-year-old Rhys. Together we walked into what I came to call the Casino. Every time someone needed quarters for the $5.00 washing machines, you’d hear the coins spilling onto the floor ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching. Jackpot! Only the jackpot had to get put into a washing machine. Some casino!
Rhys thought he was done once the bags were in front of the machines. No luck. I told him to sort whites into machine one, colors into machine two, and miscellany things like his brother’s school uniforms into machine three. This did not go well.
“Where does this go?” said Rhys about a Navy blue and white striped Rugby shirt.
“Put it in colors so the blue doesn’t run on white clothes.”
“But won’t the blue get on the white stripes?”
“Mmm, you’re right. Take it out and put it in with the whites.”
“But won’t the blue run onto the white stripes?”
“Well then put it with your brother’s uniforms!”
This went on for a while, when I finally sat him by the dryers to do his homework. One problem. There was no wi-fi and all his homework was online. Sigh.
I put him to work figuring out how to use the credit card payment choice instead of 150 quarters. Somehow he pressed the payment button four times and I paid $20 for a $5 load of laundry.
When it was time to dry the clothes, we had to figure how long it would take for a load. At a quarter for 5 minutes, I thought it best to err on the quick side. No, ten minutes did not suffice. Fifty minutes and ten quarters later we had dry clothes, with hopes that the school uniforms hadn’t shrunk.
As I folded clothes, I found myself analyzing other folk’s laundry. Like at the grocery store when I watch a healthy person unloading his/her cart on the conveyor belt and see kale and cauliflower and almond milk and nuts. While I follow with my chips and dips, cookies and cakes, pasta and pasta.
The laundromat is similar. There’s the man across from me doing Marie Kondo folds of his white-white tee shirts, while I slap-fold our yellowed tee-shirts and not-sure-they-haven’t-shrunk school uniforms. Comparison is a terrible thing.
Lately I’ve been thinking about opening my own laundromat. I’ll serve free Chai lattes and develop an artificial intelligence app to fold the laundry. Customers could Venmo money right to the machines to get them chugging. For the children, mini stadium-seating in front of kaleidoscope dryers, with a special controller for the kiddos to play with the dryer speed to make the colors go fast or slow. Like a video game without the video. I think I’m on to something.