The thought of me doing it in the U.S. gave me a little anxiety. Doing self-service laundry, that is. You see, in Manila, it is easy, quick and inexpensive to get someone else to do the laundry, often by hand. The thought of figuring out the types of washing machines, spin settings, detergents and fabric softeners was enough to give me palpitations.
A week into my journalism fellowship in St. Paul, Minnesota, it became clear I cannot delay the dreaded chore any longer. So with a little apprehension, I and roommate Tao hauled our bags of dirty clothes to the neighborhood self-service laundromat.
It seemed appropriate that the name of the laundry shop is “Suds America,” for in between spin cycles, I would see a facet of American life.
I sheepishly approached the lady at the counter and said I knew nothing about operating a machine. She kindly explained the process to me — this machine for a small load, this one for bigger loads, this machine changes your bills into quarters that you feed into the slots, this is where you get detergent, this setting for whites, this one for colors, etc., etc.
As I was about to pay for a small sachet of detergent, a nice girl came up to me with her soap gallon. “You can use mine,” she says. How very kind of her, I thought.
With my clothes spinning away on the bright colors setting (I decided not to bring any whites so as to save myself the trouble of separating loads), I sat down and reflected. I realized that the laundromat is a microcosm of America. It is an equalizer.
I looked at the rest of the folks in the laundromat, and I saw mothers with kids in tow, students working on their laptops while waiting for the dryer to finish, professionals who had just come from work, dads picking up their dry-cleaning, young and old, people of different racial or ethnic backgrounds. The laundromat, just like America, is a melting pot.
To an outsider, America may seem like an individualistic society. You can get what you want, but you have to be ready to work really hard for it. You want clean clothes, you have to carry your load and you have to be patient to wait for it until it’s done. But if you need help — and there’s no shame in admitting you need it — just speak up. You may just be surprised when someone approaches you to share his or her detergent.