The Joys Of Modern Life
41. Laundromats By Joseph Gallivan
Tuesday 13 April 1999
What if they built a laundromat for the 21st century. Would you go? Would you go if you knew they had a bank of 55 dryers down one side? Washers in three sizes - double loaders, giant, and super giant, the latter big enough to contain a nuclear family? A children's play area with slide and tricycles, large plastic tables for fluff'n'folding in every aisle, and clean chrome baskets with hanger rails so you can roll your wash around without fear of shedding items?
Well they have, and I found it in Florida. The fact that it's huge and lit like a car showroom is only part of the attraction. Everything has been done to simplify washing. Cash has been banished. There's no fumbling for coins here - the washers, dryers and soap machines only accept pre- paid smart cards. Then there's the staff. Under the strip lights that burn until 11 every night, the young "assistants" wear co-ordinated tracksuit tops and busy themselves with service washes. They smile. They offer help. I've even seen them run to the garage for a packet of cigarettes for a pensioner - so long as she didn't try and smoke inside.
Laundromats, like most services for the underclass, normally exude a stygian chic. They are staffed by old dears like Dot from EastEnders, who make your clothes run and smell of fags, and filled with malfunctioning machines - change-makers that regurgitate bank notes, washers with pools of black water beneath them ready for you to drop something, dryers blackened with chewing gum. They remind you you're a loser for not owning a washing machine, a low-caste status akin to being a pedestrian.
But at Laundromax there are several rows of bucket seats, perfect for watching the eight separately programmed televisions that hang above the washers. If you are worried about missing an instalment of your favourite telenovela or car-chase compilation programme, just ask for the universal remote control. Neighbours exchange smiles and nods at each other's viewing habits - a far cry from the howling that usually accompanies public channel surfing. Truly this is a place with liberty and justice, and television, for all. This is better than staying in. Laundromax makes people nice. A woollen-hatted homie shares his soap with a stranger. A Cuban toddler walks all over someone's sheets and is greeted with indulgent smiles.
Now I'm back in Brooklyn, things are noticeably less glamorous. There are so many laundromats here, they have to compete - not with better service, but different service. One gives free soap on Tuesdays. Another serves free coffee, another orders in pizza.
It's all a bit crummy, serving only to highlight the fast-track ideology of Laundromax. There, you don't just go to get your skivvies greyed.
You go for a dip in the future.
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
New era of cheap oil 'will destroy green revolution'
Ukip founder Alan Sked and Nigel Farage 'begged Enoch Powell to stand as a candidate'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant