By Gery L. Deer
Deer in Headlines
Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you to consider … the laundromat. There everyone’s equal; people will wear to the laundromat what they’d never be caught dead in anywhere else. I’ve always been fascinated by this microcosm of society, brought together for a single purpose, neither religious nor political, but instead hygienically motivated.
Sometimes referred to in various regions around the world as a launderette, washateria or a washette, “Laundromat” was the name originally trademarked by Westinghouse Electric Corporation for its washing machines, blending the words, “laundry,” and “automatic.” The word has since become the generic term for a self-serve, coin laundry, as “Kleenex,” has for tissues, so today the word is rarely capitalized when you see it.
They say that smells serve to remind us of the past more strongly than any of the other senses. The laundromat aroma hits you as soon as you step through the big glass door and the humidity and overwhelming spring-fresh smell of fabric softener consumes you.
Near the door, a bulletin board offers local tree trimming, babysitters and the latest pyramid company. Almost immediately, you see the long bank of massive, stainless steel washers.
Those big glass-windowed machines always reminded me of the open maw of some massive mechanical monster chewing an endless piece of frothy bubble gum. Round and round it goes, sloshing and gurgling the dirt away. Before you can put them to work, though, you need change. No debit or credit here. Coins only!
After engaging in bill-flattening ritual necessary so the machine will accept your money, laundry doers eagerly approach the great and powerful change machine. People stand before it feeding in bills with some level of excitement I have yet to comprehend, as if playing some kind of slot machine guaranteed to pay off.
Forget your detergent? Fear not! Another machine offers bite-sized samplers of the most popular brands, like one of those multipacks of breakfast cereal, urgently needed – and incredibly overpriced. Gotcha!
Once the clothes are in and the familiar sound of water rushing in begins, it’s time to wait. Some people read, others socialize and still more eat… the whole time.
Vending machines stand proudly in one corner, displaying their offerings of soda, candy and chips. I have to wonder just how old that coconut snowball must be and why is there a wrapper on that candy bar from the 90s? I’ll pass.
My squelched, I glance through the “left” and found basket. It’s a dilapidated laundry basket with a sign on it indicating that the mate to your favorite pair of blue and pink socks may not have been “lost,” so much as abandoned – on purpose – by your wife – who hates them.
Wash underway; I grab a seat on one of the colorful, hard plastic molded chairs, permanently affixed to a steel frame like the benches on a carousel. A unique fixture in Laundromats, they force you to sit in uncomfortably close proximity to your neighbor. At last, my loads are done, properly washed and dried. Time to fold.
It’s my belief that a folding table is a bit like a stage where patrons put on the show of looking as if the careful folding of even the most insignificant garment is of utmost importance. I can’t imagine anyone really takes that much care and effort at home.
Eventually, my hope is to remodel the laundry room in my house to be outfitted like my favorite self-serve laundry, sans the coins. I’d have folding tables, a washtub and stainless steel machines. Although, I have to say, I’m not sold on the front-loader, I’ve always been a top-loader man myself… just saying.
I can only imagine that running a coin laundry is a tough job. But, they do have the Coin Laundry Association, a non-profit organization serving the needs of the industry, complete with support events and even a magazine.
Since you never know where or how inspiration might hit you, here’s something to consider. As I write this for you, I’m sitting in a local coin laundry. I can’t tell you its name but it’s clean, well maintained, and offers some great top-loaders, if you’re into that kind of thing.
Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business writer. Deer In Headlines is distributed by GLD Enterprises Communications, Ltd. More at www.deerinheadlines.com.