The Joys Of Modern Life

41. Laundromats By Joseph Gallivan

"POR FAVOR, no zapatos en las secadoras" (Please do not put sneakers in the dryers). Sign at Laundromax, Miami Beach.

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.

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