Life is fully of amusing moments. Perhaps for those of us who are easily amused we don’t have to look far — I consider that a gift! Three years ago I shared a story on Facebook about my first trip to the laundromat, mostly for my own delight. Little did I know it would become a frequently-referenced story that brought tears to eyes and six-packs from belly workouts. . . you’re welcome, by the way. As I am just starting this blog I was encouraged to share it with you, so please sit back, relax, and enjoy a not-so-dramatic interpretation of the events of September 6, 2016.
For the first time I’m living in an apartment that doesn’t have a washer/dryer in-unit. Let me tell you, it’s a humbling moment when you solicit the counsel of St. Google asking “where can I do laundry near me?” Hovering my mouse over the words “I feel lucky” I do not click—my sole intention is to do my laundry—don’t try and sway me.
Pro Cleaners. Flair Cleaners. Rich Cleaners. Pilgrim Cleaners. So far I like Rich Cleaners because, of those options, that is what I want to attract most in my life. Then it dawns on me these companies want to do my laundry FOR me. Not trying to brag—I am a responsible, self-directed adult, who has done my own laundry for nearly twenty years. I think a moment before choosing my words more wisely: “Laundromats near me”. Less is more, right? I’m learning this. But wait, I have coins. Do I look up “Coin Laundromats near me” or am I absolving to “Please just take my money and let me do my laundry myself please and thank you”? When auto-fill makes the search suggestion I am reassured that my tribe is out there—somewhere—paving the way for my success.
Rock N Roll Washateria. 1 mile from home. And so it is!
I head out after work—Tuesday, 4:30 PM—with two tote bags of apparel, an unopened box of Tide dryer sheets and some .99 Cent Store brand of liquid detergent with a smell that evokes memories of absolutely nothing. Taking the last available parking spot I give the “Hey homie” nod to the man in the taco truck as if we are both bikers doing the wave. If you know me, you know my relationship with tacos runs deep. I had a moment. And again I digress.
My chosen theme song Eye of the Tiger is playing as I unload my car and prepare to walk in with an air of confidence for this new experience. Not entirely sure if it was the rate at which I threw open the door or if the song in my head escaped my lips but I felt every eye fall upon me; nonetheless I walked straight to the back which, who would have thought, turned out to be the area for drying. Glancing up at the telanovela with spotty connectivity I about-faced and headed back toward the front to the washers then plopped down my things. The washers, much like the dryers, are different sizes. This is good to know for future use as the revelation was tardy.
I felt a bit of panic set in as I offloaded my clothes and added detergent, realizing that there was no place for coins, only a slot for a card. I hesitated putting my credit card in while mumbling to myself “Don’t panic. Don’t panic”. A bead of sweat slipped down my forehead as the man standing three washers down stared. I smiled. He did not. ‘Murica.
Aside from being in Mexico earlier this year, I don’t think I’ve ever been more grateful for the four years of Spanish I had in high school and was quite surprised how much I remembered. I shuffled over to the counter and blurted out “Lo siento, puedes ayudarme? Soy nuevo en esto. Tengo monedas y necessita limpiar mis ropas.” The little gal behind the counter laughed a bit, took my coins to exchange for a bill and told me, in Spanish, to follow her. I was right about the little part. . . she was maybe 4’8”. Little Lady inserted the bill into a nearby machine which generated a tarjeta (card). “Muchas gracias, senora!” I shuffle back to my washer and insert the card, which does not work. I try five or six times, pushing buttons, wondering if there’s a camera somewhere and I’m being punked. I can feel the stares. A few more beads of sweat escape my head and I’m now blaming it on the heat from the dryers and not anxiety. Mr. Frowny Face is still watching me. I return to the counter to consult Little Lady and, with one swipe, she performs the miracle that begins the first cycle. At this point I’ve decided that this is the only load I’m doing today, period. After profusely thanking her and apologizing for being so white, I grab my things and take a seat near the spotty telanovela and pull out my Metaphysics textbook in preparation for class the next day. It’s a two-for. . . get your laundry done AND get your study on. I feel like I’m winning.
As people are passing in front of me I find that I’m covering a title that references Jesus. I’m not ashamed of Jesus Christ. I am ashamed of the possible assumption that, being the only Caucasian individual in room full of Latinos, I might be trying to be the cool white chick. . . story of my life. I’m now having a parenting-with-multiple-small-children moment as my attention is divided with blaring telanovela, the toddler three rows over repeatedly shouting a word I don’t understand and can’t find on Google, dryers spinning, homework, and the timer on my washer ticking down to completion of phase one-cycle one. I am sure to avoid eye contact with everyone as my anxiety is now at a level of manageability and I’m setting new records left and right in these moments of newness.
I later look up to notice that my laundry is lifeless. I stare at it a good thirty seconds to make sure it’s good and dead. Thankfully Mr. Frowny Face showed me the next steps, without me having to consult Little Lady–although I feel she’d be so proud of my growth–by grabbing a cart and offloading his damp laundry before rolling to the dryers. Monkey see, monkey do, and monkey thanks you for unknowingly teaching me. I ponder teaching him to smile before realizing that I’m taking this guy’s inventory instead of moving my clothes over, so I load up and spin my cart over to the dryers-of-many-sizes and throw it all in. Nervously I dropped my underwear about four or five times. There’s no time to rewash them again. . . we’re moving forward and I’m already at the bridge of Eye of the Tiger.
My tarjeta works just fine for the dryer and it spins, to my delight, immediately. With some swag in my step I shimmy back to my seat knowing the worst is behind me. Ten minutes later I look up to see no movement. Puzzled I open the dryer and stick my head in as if I’m a child looking out one of those plastic bubbles at a McDonalds playground. I close the door and try my tarjeta again. Immediately the clothing starts tumbling. I return to my seat, read another two pages before letting out an audible noise at the sight of my personals pressed against the glass, on display, in front of an audience of men who—by now—know the secret of Victoria. In disbelief I say “Jesus” and a man two seats down turns to look at me. Never mind! Never mind. Just— I slide my card one more time knowing the end is near. A woman nearby is unknowingly teaching me the next steps as she offloads her clothing and makes her way to the folding station. I am thankful for these teachers. As the cycle stops once more I reach in to my hardly-damp clothes and make the quick decision that I’m not taking that walk a fourth time and believe strongly in the power of air-drying. Of course my underwear falls on the floor another couple of times. . . it’s never the socks, shirts or pants. Never.
The folding station is where my inner superstar came out. Boy, can I rock that! Clothes are flying like an Italian chef twirling pizza dough and I’m even starting to whistle at this point. Going out on a high note! I gather the last of my items, put my damp-but-neatly-folded clothes back in my two tote bags, wipe my brow with the used dryer sheet and nearly take a celebratory swig of detergent as I make my way to the sunlit exit. How fitting. I gave a big wave to Little Lady and shouted “Muchas gracias senora!” before slapping on my sunglasses and walking out like what’s his name in that Gangnam Style video. Loading up my car I give one final nod to the man in the taco truck and thank God for the beautiful ministry he has to give society.
The mile drive back home is quick. My clothes are damp and I don’t mind. I have absolutely no idea how much money I spent and I don’t care. What I do know is the next time I return to Rock N Roll Washateria I’m going to be a pro. And maybe I’ll be able to help some rookie white bread discover her pride while growing up in public.