Monday my dryer wasn’t working so I gathered up a couple of baskets of clothes and headed to the local laundromat. Instead of being a bothersome chore it was an enjoyable trip down memory lane. The sounds, the smell, and the little metal carts all reminded me of doing laundry in dozens of similar establishments in dozens of states.
Mom usually did her laundry at home with an old wringer washer and a clothes line. But there were times when bad weather or travel found us in a laundromat. When we moved to Caddo we often dried jeans or quilts at the local one. It was small and hot and people propped the back door open for relief. Kids ran around and played chase. Dogs wandered through. There was always a baby crying or a toddler begging to go home. The laundromat faced the main street of town, so at least there was plenty to watch while we waited and the owner was often there cleaning something or emptying the coin boxes. It had a variety of owners over the years, including my great aunt and uncle.
We lived in many places over the years that lacked laundry facilities so my own children have lots of memories of laundromats. Of course by the time they came along the businesses were much more aware of the importance of entertaining customers. Laundromats had soda and snack machines and even games. Kids playing Pac-Man were less likely to complain about the time it took to finish drying their shirts. Of course they were still tempted to ignore the warning signs and race each other with the metal laundry carts.
When I traveled in the truck with Gary we visited some very upscale laundromats designed for ease and speed. Truckers are usually in a hurry and don’t have time to sit around doing the weekly wash. Doing laundry in a truck stop was never as much fun as in a local business. Very few children or crying babies.
The laundromat I used this week hasn’t changed much over the years. It is certainly cooler and cleaner. The washers are a little bigger and more efficient, but the dryers don’t seem any better than the ones I put coins into twenty years ago. They’re still incredibly loud and take forever to yield dry towels. I suppose the biggest change is that most customers were too busy on their phones to notice how long it took to finish. There were a couple of restless boys eyeing the metal carts, but they resisted temptation because the laundromat now has a full time attendant. I spent my own time thinking, remembering, and making plans for my new garden.
Even though home laundry machines are constantly evolving and improving, I suspect there will always be a need for the local laundromat and the sounds and smells will evoke memories of the past.