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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.


Ed said…
Very good posting today. The laundry card is also another step on the path to the 'no cash' computer bytes money that the government wants. If 'money' is just bytes on a computer then there is no limit to how much can be created nor how much can be taken away. It can also be done almost instantly - inflation in a nanosecond vs weeks and months.

Also, is this a picture of how the papoose was being carried?
klbexplores said…
I'm always lost at the ever increasing complexity of seemingly simple tasks.....I'd be moving on just to preserve my need to look like I have it all handled..... I have had an incredible collection of Metro tickets, probably worth a small fortune.
Anonymous said…
I am surprised a full time dispersed camper like yourself doesn't do his laundry for free out in the boonies.
Anonymous said…
What you describe at the laundromat is a total ripoff worthy of an organized street protest. In the last year, I have used a couple of laundromats that took no coins, only debit or credit cards at each machine. Actually, I liked that. No scrounging for quarters.

Thanks, Ed. It does "help" appreciate the horribleness of something to see it as one more manifestation of a worrisome trend. Sometimes I may be too good at that for my own good. Other people don't seem to notice it, or care.
The complexity is hard to understand, considering that computers and the internet SHOULD make life easier for us. Perhaps there are just too many people whose power, jobs, and budget depend on increasing the complexity you have noticed.
Driving into town to get water is not "free".
If they would keep the change-machines working, scrounging for quarters would not be a problem.
Ed said…
I gave up on change machines years ago. The slot machines in Reno offered a better payout that what my experience with change machines has been.