Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Laundromat

I don't like to return home from vacation with a bag of dirty clothes. The day before we left New York, I headed to the Laundromat located near the entrance to the Chautauqua Institute where we spent most of the week listening to lectures and attending concerts. 

I brought my own detergent to avoid paying for the overpriced soap available in the metal dispenser on the wall, lugging a brown paper bag bulging with clothes. As I walked briskly the few blocks from the house where we stayed, I hoped the five dollars I clutched would cover the cost of my laundry.

Choosing the washer closest to the door, I inserted seven quarters for one load. All of the contents of my bag were stuffed into the drum  Glancing at the other people in the room, - an elderly husband and wife and an older man - I realized everyone else brought something to read except me! What was I thinking? I always bring something to do, sewing or a book, while waiting.  Then I saw a sign on the wall: "Closed at 3:30."  The clock above the washer read 3:10. Another sign indicated the washer cycle lasted 30 minutes.

"Who closes a Laundromat at 3:30 in the afternoon at a busy place like Chautauqua?," I asked myself. Exasperated, I failed to realize many of the houses and apartments have their own laundry facilities.

What should I do?  My clothes were already soaking wet in soapy water,as I heard the familiar sound of a washer churn.  First, I decided to sit down and take a deep breath.  I noted the light pink room had a five or six inch border of large flowers in the middle of each wall.

Odd color and border for a Laundromat.  Pink and flowers seem more appropriate for a woman's bathroom or a little girl's bedroom.  Noting someone's color scheme and decorating style for a Laundromat did not solve my dilemma.

Approximately ten minutes into the washing cycle, I decided to remove a few items of clothing. I lifted the lid of the washer. The drum was filled with cold water. I reached in and grabbed a couple of Mike's T-shirts. Dripping wet short-sleeved shirts are heavy. I twisted out as much water as I could, closed the lid and put these items in the dryer which cost $1.25 an hour.

Hoping the shirts were clean after an abbreviated cycle, I was frantically thinking through a plan to manage two dripping wet sweatshirts and other items of clothing when the place closed in ten minutes.  Why didn't I note the hours? Why would a Laundromat have hours? The ones I knew were open 24/7? How could I carry dripping clothes back to the house without getting wet myself?  Besides the place where we stayed offered no place to hang the clothes. What would I do once I got there?

Feeling like a real dunce, I was suddenly rescued when a gentleman dressed in faded jeans and an old T-shirt popped in the room.

"I need to leave. Last one done turn out the lights and lock the door." He delivered his message and left.

"He must be the owner," I thought. "He sure is trusting leaving care of his Laundromat to strangers!"

My anxiety plummeted. The washer could finish. I could use a second dryer to speed the drying process, and the elderly couple who left at 3:30 left their day-old copy of 'The New York Times' on the folding table. Life had turned in a matter of minutes and best of all my clothes could dry.

The place was empty while I folded my clothes. All of the washers and dryers were silent. I loaded my paper sack, remembering the gentleman's request, when a middle-aged husband and wife walked in the door. 

They looked at me balancing my bag overflowing with cleanliness and said, "Are we too late?"

"Oh no," I replied.  "Just turn off the lights and lock the door when you leave." I said smiling.


  1. What a wonderful, dreamy place still left in the world--a place where a business owner trusts total strangers to leave the place safe and secure in his absence! And your worries about being done in time--I can imagine myself doing the exact same thing. This is a fun read!

  2. Awesome story, mom. And to think, all I got that day was a glimpse at the awful wallpaper. Thanks for sharing <3 TB