Sunday, May 1, 2016

Hitting the Jackpot with the Service Economy

So this is what it feels like to hit the jackpot! Despite the cliché that 'America has a service economy', an experienced traveler knows how difficult it is to get a dog groomed or a car fixed. Even more frustrating is the search for a seamstress. It would be easier to schedule brain surgery than to get a zipper replaced, when you're on the road.

That is why I hit the jackpot in Silver City when I threw myself on the mercy of a dry cleaning place, the same place where I had been saved a half dozen years ago, when this same winter parka had suffered 'wardrobe malfunction'. The way things go these days, perhaps I shouldn't complain about the new metal zipper surviving heavy use for that long. (It was twice as long as the original nylon Delrin zipper.}

Back then I remember the disappointment of the best winter parka of my life failing so prematurely, and fearing that it would now be put in the dumpster. It's funny how that works: we never remember the pretty scenery and the perfect weather and the smooth rides. But we remember the misadventures and the disasters. The wardrobe malfunction had happened on a cold blustery spring day in New Mexico. I was angry and miserable, walking through town, looking for seamstress help, while holding the parka closed with my soon-to-be-frozen fingers. 

But soon I started to like it. I had been walking to town with no particular purpose. Perhaps I would have ended up squandering time and money at a coffee shop. But now I let the cold wind cleave the parka in two. I was now engaged in a great and noble battle with Evil, testing whether this parka, or any parka so conceived and so dedicated, would long endure.

Well, that was Then. And Here we were again. This time the seamstress put an even bigger metal zipper in. It looks like it was made by Caterpillar Tractor Co., instead of YKK. 

And by the way, does YKK Corp. have some sort of global monopoly on zippers? Maybe that is why zippers are the bane of our existence.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Retro-Grouch at the Laundromat

I thought it was a bad idea whose time had come...and passed. But there it was, staring at me, once again.

Quarters aren't accepted by an ultra-modern laundromat, like this one. Now you must waste money to buy a plastic card even before putting a balance on the card that lets you do laundry. Yea, like that is really advantageous for the traveler who is only going to be there once.

Of course there were complex instructions for paying for the card itself, then putting a balance on the card, then inserting it into the washing machine (once chance in four of getting it right), and then pulling it out at the right speed so it actually begins working. I have seen a poor attendant have to help every other customer with these damn things!

I actually groaned out-loud when I walked into this business and saw the bad news. I was traveling with a European friend for a week. Recognizing all the telltale signs of an incipient rant, they started looking for a fire extinguisher to spray me down.

This isn't the first time I've seen this type of setup. The first time was in Yuma. Obviously charging you $5 for card -- with zero balance -- was an integral part of their business model. They were counting on a certain fraction of their elderly snowbird clientele leaving for the summer, losing the card, or croaking during the summer.

Besides the technical annoyances, which admittedly are short term, what bothers me the most is what this scam represents: another way to financialize daily life and hide price increases. When you have been putting 7 quarters into the washer for a few years, you are used to it. If the price is raised to 8, you will notice it and consider trying the laundromat down the street. Even worse, when our 'non-existent' inflation pushes the price to 9 in another year or two, all of the hardware of the washers will have to be changed because they only have 8 slots. What a nuisance that will be to the laundromat -- clearly an advantage to the financialized approach.

Step by step, the customer is meant to lose track of how much they are actually paying to do laundry. Perhaps the machines can be upgraded to use EBT cards. Perhaps putting more money on your balance will be done with a smartphone app. If you don't have any more balance on your app, PayPal, or EBT account, perhaps you can get a short term 'bridge' loan, based on your car title. Recently I saw progress in shifting from car title loans to car registration loans.

It pleases me to report (and I have a witness) that I made three nice compliments to the laundry attendant about how clean and fast her new machines were.

But let's face it: going to the laundromat is never going to be a traveler's favorite chore. Recently I was at a laundromat near an Indian reservation. (Oh no...) Recall the book "Kabloona", which I twisted into my nom de plume.  In the book the French anthropologist was living with the esquimaux in northern Canada. He admitted that he never fantasized over having a harem of esquimaux women. But after two years of living amongst them, he was noticing that they were starting to look better to him. (What do you expect, for a Frenchman...) As I looked around at my laundromat's clientele, it seemed that two years might not be quite enough.

With that churlish thought in my mind, in comes a youngish Indian woman, with interesting shoes and leggings. They were not ostentatiously retro; in fact they looked like they came from a thrift store; but they somehow suggested traditional clothing. She was short, had bronzed skin, raven black hair, and high cheekbones. It didn't take much imagination to think, "Bering Strait." Quite a handsome woman, in a rugged sort of way. Except for being a hunchback...

But wait, it wasn't a hump. It was a young daughter -- a papoose -- carried in a vivid purple towel. I wish I knew more about knots because the purple towel was tied in a way that was both ornamental and functional. It was all that kept the papoose from falling to the ground. But the mother moved freely around the laundromat, as if the papoose were just a part of her body.

What a spark that woman had to her personality, to take something traditional and make it look so natural and un-forced. Personally I have never paid much attention to style. Perhaps I should have.