Finding Stories in the Laundromat

Sometimes, I miss going to the laundromat. It provided a much-needed third space in an area that offers few of them. It also provided a place to think.

Well, sometimes, anyway. Afternoon talk shows and sometimes the evening news played on the TV, and children often skidded around the washer and dryer banks, their screams echoing as they did so. Tired parents tried to shush them, but they often gave up after a while. Others watched videos or played games on their smart phones. Few, if any, people talked to each other.

The laundromat raised a question for me: Can a setting alone tell a story? To explore the possibility, I took about 60 photos using only my smartphone — no gimbal, tripod, or other stabilizer.

In such a Spartan space, finding interesting shots proved challenging. The laundromat hosted the expected items: washers, dryers, carts, soaps, quarters, and a bathroom. The TV hung high on the wall, with a tethered remote tucked into a bin mounted below:

A television hangs on the laundromat wall with the remote tucked in a bin below.

Cute “laundry themed” decorations hung on the wall:

A faded wall decoration of a girl doing laundry.

At one time they probably looked nice, but now they were faded and curling under the tacks.

On this day, the laundromat showed only a few signs of human use. Someone forgot their detergent by the laundry sink:

An abandoned bottle of laundry soap sits near the sink.

Another person left their dryer sheet on the floor:

An abandoned used dryer sheet on the floor

A cart sat abandoned next to the super (expensive) dryers:

A laundry cart awaits by the super dryers.

The other carts gossiped in the corner by the front windows:

The other laundry carts hung out by the front windows.

The washers patiently awaited new loads:

Washers await new loads.

But the change machine remained out of order that day:

No quarters for you today.

Below that “out of order sign” appeared this one: “Quarters for customers only.”

Quarters are for customers only.

Here is where the laundromat changed from a setting into a possible story. While I spent that afternoon awaiting the laundry to finish, almost half a dozen people sought quarters from the machine.

First was a couple in their mid-50s. They had a crumpled $20 bill that they tried anyway, but the bill acceptor refused it each time. After three tries they gave up and left.

Second was a younger couple in their mid-30s. Their three kids and big dog awaited in the truck as they tried to get change for a $5. They had wanted to get some sodas out of the vending machine.

Third was a single lady in her 60s with a $5 bill. She tried the machine several times before throwing her hands up and grumbling out the door.

None of these people were customers. Not one brought laundry inside, despite what the sign said.

The point here is that people doing something is what makes a space interesting, particularly in such a mundane location as this one.

Sure, snow-capped mountains are beautiful, looming clouds hint pending storm, city streets set a location. More interesting is seeing a climber make her way up that mountain, a city crowd turning up their collars and opening their umbrellas against the pending rain, and a lone child running down the city street to take his parent’s waiting hand.

Or people cursing out the broken change machine in an empty laundromat.

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