Just because it was one of those odd ball mornings,
I thought you might enjoy this silly tale.
Having arrived recently in California from India, Chris and I had accumulated a large load of dirty laundry. Rather than use the small ancient washing machine in the house, I decided to take our bulging bundle to a laundry mat in the town of Yucaipa.
Half-an-hour later, after a relaxing drive down a canyon road, I reached the recently renovated, quaint section of Yucaipa and pulled into the laundromat parking lot.
I was the lone washer inside the laundry mat and had my choice of several machines. I chose a front-loading one, Number 26 and put our towels, clothes and sheets inside it and $4.00 worth of quarters into the coin slots. I added soap, turned the machine on and took a seat on a nearby bench to wait the twenty minutes or so for the cycle to finish.
A few minutes later a man entered with a bag of laundry and put his clothes in a machine closer to the dryers (smart). I checked my wash a few times, saw the contents moving back-and-forth through the glass as the machine kept adding small amounts of water. Only when I heard the man’s machine in the spin cycle did I start to wonder what was taking so long for my wash to finish. I went again to look, and then realized the needle was stuck in pre-wash. My laundry was being tossed and tumbled with small amounts of water added every few minutes alternating with some of the water receding and then the entire process started all over again. For the last half-hour the laundry had been stuck in a miniature undulating wave.
I pushed buttons – nothing happened. I pulled on the washer door trying to open it knowing that it was not possible to open a front-loading machine until the cycle was finished. I looked around to see if there was sign with a number to call, anyone to contact at all. Nope, nothing. Only a poster that said, “SMILE you are on camera!” Right!
Even if there had been a number posted I was stuck without a phone (but that was another story, trying to get set up again with phone service in the U.S.)
I went and asked the man if he knew anyone associated with the laundry mat to contact. He said, “No, don’t know,” then he came and looked at the machine, tried the door, shrugged his shoulders and said, “Sorry, no luck.”
Another man then walked in, an elderly gentleman. I asked him too for a contact person and in his broken English he said, “Enrique, ask Enrique he lives over there,” and pointed to some buildings near by the laundry mat.
I walked over to the buildings, it appeared like no one was there but I called, “Enrique, Enrique!” and heard the wind whoosh in response.
Back at the laundry mat, I looked forlornly at the clothes being mercilessly tossed about.
Then the first gentleman, who was by now starting to put his clothes in the dryer said, “Enrique, he cleans here and works at the car wash down the street, go there.”
I went to the carwash, talked to the woman behind the register, told her my dilemma and followed her outside to Enrique, a thin long-haired older Mexican man who was drying cars as they came out of the car wash (unlike my laundry). The woman explained the situation, but all Enrique said was, “Sorry, so sorry I don’t have any way to contact the owner, I don’t even have his number.”
All right, now what. Okay, go call Chris – two heads may be better in dealing with the ridiculous, but how to call him? I had not seen a pay phone anywhere and doubted they existed any more in America, with everyone having cell phones they seemed to have all disappeared. Then I remembered the local library next to a police station a few blocks away. I went inside and explained the situation to Linda the librarian and asked if I could use the library’s phone to call Chris. Linda let me use the phone and she also looked in the yellow pages for a number for the laundry mat. She called the number listed and got the message, “This number is no longer in service.” Well, that figured!
I thanked Linda who seemed to enjoy the comical situation, and asked her for a piece of scrap paper. At the very least, I decided to leave a note on the machine with our contact number.
Chris, who was without any transportation, suggested I go to businesses close by the laundry mat to see if anyone knew the owner. I went to the only business close to the laundry, a sandwich shop across the street. Once again I explained the situation, this time to a young woman behind the cash register who said, “I don’t know the owner but maybe my manager does,” and she went outside and came back with another young woman following behind her.
They both did their best to try to locate the owner, the manager remembered him from the few times he had stopped by for lunch. She looked online for a number, phoned someone she thought might know him but everything she tried did not get me any closer to getting our laundry rescued.
At that point, exhausted and feeling defeated by a machine, I decided it was time to drive back up the canyon. I looked again at the laundry rotating back-and-forth, left my note on Number 26 and hoped for the best.
Half and hour later I was sitting at the kitchen table with Chris debating how to proceed with the laundry. We both decided to go back down and try again. He brought some tools with him, just in case it was possible to pry open the machine. Inside the laundry mat I walked up to Number 26, and sure enough the laundry was still swinging back and forth in a repetitive cycle. The note I had taped to the machine was gone. By now, our clothes had been in the pre-wash cycle for five plus hours!
Chris tried the door, pushed and prodded, as I anxiously suggested he not do anything that might damage the machine. Since the door was not budging, we discussed what to do and decided well, in this case maybe we just have to go to the police, they might be able to trace the owner for us – they likely could find him through their “secret” channels.
We walked into the police station and talked with the friendly receptionist behind (I presumed) bullet-proof glass. I said, “This is a bit silly but maybe you can help us because we don’t know what else to do…” and proceeded to explain the situation.
She walked away and ten minutes later a policewoman came through the door and said, “We weren’t having any luck, we looked through our computers and weren’t coming up with anything, then one of our staff happened to remember the owner has a restaurant so we called that number. He’ll be there in ten minutes.”
So much for “secret” computer files, but my, what immediate action a call from the police can produce in small town America!
I said to her, “Thanks, that’s great, we really did not know what to do! All his underwear (pointing to Chris) is in the machine!”
She rolled her eyes appreciatively, laughed and said, “That was just a bit of good luck.”
We drove back to the laundry mat, walked inside to see an older man dressed in crisp jeans, long sleeved shirt and a gold neck chain pulling our wet clothes out of Number 26. He babbled on with a string of excuses for why he never gave out his telephone number and did not post a contact number in the laundry mat. In his mostly incoherent monologue, I learned he not only owned the laundry mat but a fast-food restaurant and the vacant building next door. I half-listened to him rant on and on about how difficult it was to find good help and how he tried, but wasn’t able to get any one to work at the laundry to assist people who did not want to do their own wash. He didn’t want to be bothered by people and their laundry. Obviously!
At that point, I was just thankful to see the machine’s door open and a pile of quarters for our use to finish our wash. We transferred all the laundry into two top-loading machines with doors that didn’t lock (we had to spin out our very water-logged wash before putting it in the dryers).
The owner, embellishing his list of excuses, then showed me how to open the front-loading machine with a screw-driver.
“In case” he said, “it should ever happen again.”
Seriously?! I doubt we will ever come back here! I thought.
Driving back up the canyon I pondered about all the help and kindness I had received that day – all because a washing machine got stuck.
Will end this little tale with a well-known Zen proverb,
“After enlightenment, the laundry.”