July 6, 2011

Laundry adventure on my first full day in Flagstaff (written 7/2/11)

For a minute there, I could have sworn I was on study abroad. My mission of the day was to have a bed set up and ready to sleep in. The final step to complete Operation Bed was to find a laundromat.

Finding a laundromat was my forth or fifth step in the day's mission. First thing this morning, I went to the Furniture Barn and bought a bed because “sleeping” on the floor for just one night is more than enough motivation. The second phase of the mission was to go buck wild at Target, picking up everything from a silverware organizer to a shower caddy—and don't forget sheets for the new bed. Unfortunately I did forget laundry detergent, which spurred a third mission. Since returning to Target so soon would have been a total embarrassment, I decided that I would go to Home Depot (across town) instead, because they have laundry detergent and Adirondack chairs for my patio area.

Since I began this entry with the need to find a laundromat, you may have seen this next part coming. Detergent and laundry in hand, I marched right up to the locked laundry room door to read a sign informing me that the laundry rooms would be out of service until July 8th, presumably for an upgrade of the 1980's-style machines lined up out front.

My experience trying to find a laundromat was not unlike the frustrating times I had in Cambodia, waiting for tuk tuk drivers to admit that they had no idea where the Post Office was (and then demanding extra money); and not unlike the agony of coordinating five Austrian bus routes only to arrive at the office building and realize that the office hours are from 10-12:30 Tuesdays only. Today, I had called upon my trusty cell phone GPS to help me search for and navigate to a nearby laundromat in this unfamiliar city. After the third laundromat failed to be where the phone insisted it was, the phrase “you are now off track” applied more to my phone than to me.

I gave in to the stomach growls and headache and pulled into a grocery store. I could only handle the unwashed sheets if I had a full stomach and stocked cupboards.

On the way home, sitting in a form of traffic unique to Flagstaff's main drag, I saw a laundromat. Right there, on the street I had been driving all day. About 200 yards after the place where my phone had insisted I turn (that was the DMV, by the way.)

I had a choice to make. Totally abort mission or resume. After a quick grocery drop-off, you bet I was back at that laundromat. Once I had my sheets spinning around amidst hundreds of other people's, the scent of communal laundry took me back to a very dark place: the laundry room at the Ghegagasse Student Apartments, where I had lived as an exchange student in Austria.

To wash laundry at Ghegagasse, I had to go to the basement of another complex and brave the “drying room,” which was just a damp, windowless, barely lit room full of clothesline and the ghostly shadows of other people's trousers. If I was lucky the light in the actual wash room would be on, illuminating the outline of the door I wanted. Once inside, I had my choice of machines in varying degree of disrepair. This one leaks, that one stains, the other runs it through the wrong cycle. Well, actually, it was impossible to know which cycle you had chosen because, like in Cambodia, the machines had directions in an unintelligible language. Even if it was German, I couldn't make any sense of it.

There are no dryers in other parts of the world, either. Drying clothes in Cambodia was a breeze. A few minutes at midday and you had crispy shirts. In Austria, it wasn't so easy. The lack of space in our five bedroom apartment proved difficult for freestanding laundry racks. No matter, we put them in the hallways, blocking the bathroom. I borrowed a rack from Gimi', my happy-go-lucky Serbian roommate. He taught me that there is no shame in displaying your socks and underwear in the hallway.

The Flagstaff laundromat proved that a little perseverance goes a long way. My experiences on study abroad continue to help me see everyday situations as both funny and triumphant. The little victories lead to something bigger, like a freshly made bed. Or a sent letter. Or a signed form.