Laundry goes in too late the day before I leave, and the day is too soggy for it to dry in time. The landlady has a damp load making no progress on the lower level’s clothesline. I could pack my things in a bag’s damp compartment and air them out on arrival, but I’m convinced they will be too musty and require rewashing. Like most people here, the landlady doesn’t maintain a dryer, both because it is usually unnecessary and electricity is exorbitant. Given electricity, the laundromat is a bargain.
Her late-model Volvo doesn’t look out of place at the newer upscale laundromat. Sharing a strip mall with a Subway and a health insurance storefront, the facade is newly white with neon signs announcing hours and prices. It is clean and brightly lit and all the machines shine in their stainless steel. Matching flat panel TVs ring the high room over our heads. Machines don’t take quarters but a reusable debit card. The place feels like a Best Buy.
The people are the same: working families with many children and mounds of laundry. As kids always do around adult work they occupy themselves with madeup games, smiling as they hop on different colored carpet squares and running just slow enough that no one tells them to stop. Women with tired but gentle and smiling faces pull clothes out of clean mounds and fold out shirts, sheets, kid piles, adult piles. No one is very old here, not really. Everyone moves with the spry duty of taking care of themselves, doing the work they need to do to work for someone else.
Out in the parking lot a gaggle of kids congregates by the door, not screaming or shouting or causing trouble but simply outside. I realize in some states I have been in, in some neighborhoods where certain skin colors predominate, this would attract cops and serious response. In Hilo it’s the day before school starts and a Sunday and they are just kids at the laundromat.
A van pulls up and a young girl, maybe a high school freshman, opens the back and wrestles with mountains of laundry piled into baskets. She yells at some of the kids to help. She seems grown for her age and size, handling this but not well. Is she like the loud country girls I remember but didn’t understand then, now knowing they dealt with siblings they were all but parents for, parents that were gone or abusive, money rare as snow? All I know about this girl is she can drive a van and demand help with the family’s laundry.
Our clothes don’t take long to dry, one or two commercial breaks. My clothes fold into sloppy squares and take up half the landlady’s battered basket. I put a five on the debit card and give it to her with four bucks left. For those comforters you have to wash. She approves of the laundromat and its effort to create an ambiance. This is very nice, they did a good job. She knows what was here before, knows the people that started it. It is a small town, and things done with quality show larger.
Everyone needs clothes for the first day of school tomorrow, but the kids play as if school is not something to dread. No older kids park and repark cars here. The girl with the van is hauling clothes inside. I don’t feel dread. I smell the car’s clean air conditioning and the warm odor of clothes from the dryer, as redolent and warm as biscuits on a winter morning. School starts tomorrow but that was a long time ago for me.