Laundry list

There are a lot of places I don’t go in life. Some of those are because I have good sense and know to avoid them. Others, however, are because I just don’t really have occasion to go there. For example, jewelry stores. (I know, my lucky wife.)

I identified another locale I am vastly unfamiliar with recently. For only the second time in 25 years I visited a laundromat. They are fine places that offer a valuable service, and I’m glad they are here for anyone and everyone. It’s just that, much like jewelry stores, I’ve not been to many.

The last time was about 10 years ago. We were fortunate enough to have a horrid flea infestation, and in order to eradicate them we had to wash every bit of clothing and bedding we had. (I would have burned everything in a large bonfire in the yard, but local ordinances wouldn’t allow that.)

The time prior to that was when I was in college and I had to go to a nearby laundromat and explain to them that (a) I had not been to the laundromat and that (b) that check that just got returned had handwriting surprisingly similar to my roommate’s.

Unfortunately, our dryer was damaged recently, and its repair would not be complete for a few days. I took a quick poll of the house. “Can everyone make it through the next few days without washing clothes?” No, was the general consensus. For what it’s worth, I found that amazing, as if you saw their closets and dressers, you would feel pretty confident they would have enough clothes until roughly 2034.

So I told everyone to gather up the bare basics of what they would need to get them through a few days. And I gave very strict rules: It must be dirty or stinky, and it must be worn next week. I don’t care if you have to put a pair of shorts over those newly cleaned jeans. If I wash it, it’s getting worn.

So a few observations from the laundromat:

  • I came in with about $3 in quarters in my pocket. I am a fool. A wash load costs $8.75, which, by my estimate, is more than $3. Also, that is for a 20-minute wash. Thus, washing machines make $26.25/hour, which translates to around $54K a year in salary. Feel free to compare yourself accordingly to a washing machine.
  • I had no idea what I was doing. As I fumbled around trying to figure out how to start the washer, it occurred to me that I was not totally certain I was at a washer. I turned around and noticed several folks staring at me. I looked toward an older woman and said sheepishly, “This is the washer, right?” She smiled and nodded, with a bit of a “you poor thing” look.
  • Once I confirmed that is was the washer and loaded my clothes, I went to close the washer door. It bounced back at me. Slammed it again. Bounce. “Turn the handle,” the older woman said. Good call. Sure enough, there was a handle on the door that, when turned, very much prevented it from bouncing back.
  • You cannot use just the dryers there. You wanna use the dryers? Oh, you are going to use that $8.75/load washer first.
  • I believe a federal law should immediately be implemented in which every laundromat should have wifi available. Or require there to be a Pizza Hut with free wifi next door, as this one has. Thanks, Pizza Hut!
  • I do not know laundromat etiquette, so I just sat there quietly. Case in point — a woman was removing things from a dryer and an article of clothing fell on the floor. My first thought was to say, “Ma’am…” But then I stopped. What if it was some unwritten code of the laundromat, in particular for a man letting a woman know a pair of her underwear was on the floor. I figured silence and a focus on my computer screen was the best option. The woman next to me did say, “Ma’am,” caught her attention and pointed at the floor. But I still don’t know if it was OK for me to do so.
  • I do, however, know personal space etiquette. And you know who violated it? The little girl who was watching YouTube videos on her phone and repeatedly drifted over about three inches from me, leaning very much into my personal space, craning her neck at my screen.
  • You know how at a restaurant, if a baby starts crying, there will inevitably be a few people rather annoyed at that? Yeah, not at the laundromat. A baby started crying and the laundromat turned into maternal central. There were moms and grandmothers converging on the child, cooing and tickling and offering colorful magazines and singing and what not. It was actually quite sweet. Almost made me regret loudly stating, “Would someone please quiet that baby down. I’m trying to launder.”

So I successfully navigated the waters of the laundromat. I am glad that, should I need to visit one again soon, I will be well prepared for it. But I’m still not ready for the jewelry store.

Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C. A graduate of the University of Alabama, he now lives in Mt. Pleasant. You can e-mail him at or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike.


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