I like laundromats because they are where normal people go.
A man wearing a short, black hat sits on the same bench as me. I sit on one end, and he sits on the other. The bench lines the long, tall widows that face the small parking lot attached to the laundromat. The parking lot has clear signage, “For Laundromat Customers Only.” I had snagged one of the last spots. I watch my car, which is behind my right shoulder, out of the corner of my eye.
The man has on purple, low-top converse with red shoelaces laced horizontally. The converse look clean, but I think he has had them for a little while because the heels are worn away. His socks are argyle, and the trapezoids that compose the pattern are happy colors: purple, turquoise, and orange. His jeans are dark wash, new, and neatly cuffed at the bottom, and he has on one of those textile hoodies that I’ve seen for sale in Mexico. The man is not young, but he has a style that works for him.
He opens a book with “positive thinking” in the title and reads through black glasses that have a thick frame.
A baby, no more than two, stumbles around with an enormous smile on her face. She has crazy hair that is a bit reddish. Her impatient daddy follows her, speaking words that are too harsh for someone so small. The happy baby reminds me of the times I went to the laundromat with my mom and crawled around looking for quarters. A woman, who is people watching like me, walks over to him, and begins to share her tales of motherhood. She said she is not yet thirty.
I feel at home here among these strangers because laundry is an equalizer—we all must do it. I brought a comforter and a quilt from home that are too large for my washing machine. Others brought comforters, too, and many brought items that go in the normal loads I wash at home.
The man in the purple converse paces to the row of dryers, returns to the bench, and flips through a few pages only to get up again. He does this several times. Someone else takes his seat when he relocates to pace outside. My new neighbor is not as restless and reads something on a tablet.
I get up to unload my washers, and the man with the happy daughter and the woman who said hello chat about random things like chewing tobacco and how relationships are supposed to work. The woman does most of the listening. She glances at her phone from time to time, and I wonder if she is annoyed.
You can tell a lot about a person by how he fold clothes. Everyone has a system. One man hangs shirts on the portable carts that the laundromat provides. He brought the hangers with him. Another man carefully folds sheets into tight squares. I think about my mom, who would be impressed. Another man, who is definitely using his wife’s laundry tote because it is cute and has black and white stripes, folds everything, not perfectly, but neatly enough. No one simply throws their clothes from the dryer into a basket and heads for the door. Everyone takes the time to organize.
I see people watching me—just like I watch them. I wonder if laundromats remind them that everyone is the same, and I wonder why they are here. Are their washers broken? Do they own one? Or, are they like me? Their washer is too small to handle the load.
One way or another, we are all here, overtly people watching and doing what we have to do: wash stuff.