The Laundromat

“You can use the big machine over there,” the lady said to me as I entered the unfamiliar surroundings. Right away, she pegged me for a middle-class, needs-to-do-her-JC-Penney-comforter-in-a-commercial-machine woman.

Normally, she would be correct. Except I buy my comforters at SAM’s and wash them in my machine which was probably why it broke. Unfortunately, my machine broke right before I left for vacation in North Carolina. With my 21-year-old son and 91-year-old mom staying home along with Mom’s caregiver, it would definitely cause some inconvenience.

“I’ll call a repairman when I get back,” I stated as I got in our truck for the long ride to the Tar-heel state.

“Wait a minute. How do am I supposed to wash my clothes?” my son complained.

“Take your change and yourself to the laundromat,” I replied and shut the truck door. I’m not sure he knew what that was.

Now I was there. I even had to google “laundromat” to find one. I don’t know if it was my imagination but the rough-looking man outside, the African American woman inside and the blond woman who seemed to be in charge knew I had a laundromat handicap.

Inside, I smiled. I love new situations where I meet people outside of my life-box. I unloaded four loads of clothes on linoleum tables and changed my $10 bill for quarters.

After that, I faltered.

The blond woman who I guessed to be in her mid-50′s tutored me about the machines and sliding my quarters into the slots. One machine was $1.75, another $2. I added the detergent and my clothes, shut the lid and slid the quarters in to pay homage to the washing machine god. Of course, I started conversations with the two ladies.

The blond was Bonnie. She didn’t own the place but was working that day to wash white towels and sheets for a local hotel. She took her washing and folding job seriously.

The other woman lived across the street and had 8 grandkids.

There are no secrets in laundromats. Everyone sees what you are washing whether it’s mini-clothes for your grandkids, uniforms for work, or unmentionables for yourself.

They were reluctant to engage in conversation at first. Then the power blinked and two of my washers stopped. Bonnie came to the rescue. We both unloaded soaking clothes into an adjacent washer which she stuffed with quarters. That broke the ice.

I wondered what I would do if no one were there to help me. What a person who had no washer being fixed and only had $5 to their name and the machine broke with no one to help. What would they do?

Probably, they are used to problems like that and figure it out.

It began to pour. A great-big-fat-Florida downpour complete with lightening. The woman from across the street, Flo, looked anxious. Turned out that she’d walked across the street and didn’t drive. I offered to drive her the short distance. She looked skeptical.

We just kept talking while Bonnie and Flo folded. The laundromat was hot. Humid. A few feet away temperatures were a good fifteen degrees cooler.

“I worked at a hotel cleaning and doing laundry for a while,” Flo offered. They both understood white towels and sheets and cleaning and working in laundry-like heat. I understood air conditioning, washing machines that didn’t eat quarters, and college dorms.

I considered myself lucky to spend a few hours with these women. They’re behind the scenes people who take their jobs and families seriously. Bonnie’s kid just graduated from college. The other one graduates in two years.

The rain continued. After I insisted, Flo let me drive her the short distance home.

“It’s a senior citizen residence.” She must have noticed the shocked look on my face because she added, “I’m wearing my extra hair, if you saw my real hair you’d know.” She smiled.

I smiled

I think I might just go to the laundromat every once in a while for fun.

And to learn something.



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