Monday, December 7, 2009
I rolled into Yazoo City last evening after four days of walking, in need of a rest. There's no Walmart here, but I saw an internet ad for an RV park. However, when I got there I was informed that the owner lives in Jackson. I called him but wasn't able to connect last night, so I ended up staying in the Days Inn on 49E. Nice enough place, with lots more channels than I get in the motor home on my portable TV, and other amenities. So I relaxed and enjoyed the comparative luxury, taking the hot shower to end all hot showers, and checking out this morning only when prompted to do so by the front desk. Then I did get through to the owner of the RV park, a very friendly man named Montie Ramsey whom I met when he came over this afternoon to collect my money. So I'm here for the next three nights, with water, electricity, and sewer. The electricity especially is a semi-luxury, since it means I don't have to keep the generator running, rumbling and sucking down gas, while I use the appliances.
The Canal Street Laundr-O-Mat in Yazoo City was typical. It had a floor of grimy linoleum tiles, once white, many of them cracked and chipped, exposing the concrete underneath. About a third of the machines, both washers and dryers, were out of order, their coin slots covered over with different kinds and colors of tape. The machines ringed the outside walls, and there were a couple of rows of tables in the center area along with some falling-apart laundry baskets on wheels. This place had two bill-changing machines, which was exceptional. Sometimes you have the machines but no way to get change, or you have to go next door to another business to get change and ring the bell to get the employee to come up to the cash register.
Everything was filthy except the insides of the machines themselves. The idea of there being such squalor in a place where people go to get things clean has always been a bit mystifying to me, but it's more the rule than the exception. The smell inside was the same as the smell inside every laundromat. In spite of the dirt on the walls and floor, the deposits of dust and grease and slimy spilled soap under, in front of, and atop all the machines, the smell was more or less a smell of cleanliness, that is to say, it was the smell of detergent and bleach and moist heat.
As usual, there were a couple of older women who might or might not have been employees who were thoroughly knowledgeable about how to use the machines, how many quarters it took to to run them, which ones worked, and which ones would take your money and give you nothing. There were top loading washers and front loading commercial-sized ones. I couldn't get any of the top loading washers to work or to accept the six quarters they were designed to take. I was advised to use one of the front loaders, which took eleven quarters, but which, I was assured, would wash all the clothes in my basket. So I abandoned my original plan to do a dark load and a light load, and threw everything in together, except for a new t-shirt I bought at the Delta Blues Museum with a picture of Muddy Waters on the front and two lines on the back that said, "Got my mojo working but it just won't work on you." That one I kept out for fear of having it turn another color, in spite of the fact that in my experience it's the red stuff that turns the white stuff pink, and I had nothing red to wash. Nevertheless, better safe than sorry, especially with such a primo shirt.
Also typical of laundromats, the customers, mostly women, were tending children, yelling at them between their tasks while competently caring for the clothes, folding them just so on the reasonably clean tables, talking on cell phones, laughing, and carrying on conversations with one another. I took one of the seats in a row of cracked, sit-at-your-own-risk molded fiberglass chairs and half-read The New Yorker while answering the persistent questions of a three-year-old boy next to me.
Owning a laundromat must be a lucrative proposition, especially when you spend no money on maintenance or upkeep. It certainly doesn't take anything close to $2.75 in water and heat to do a load of wash, or $2.00 to dry them. The patrons don't seem to care much, either, since they are only there to do one thing, then get the hell out. Anyway, it's the only place they can go, if they have no appliances at home. The people who can least afford to spend this money. There's certainly some old acquisitive bastard behind this place, who probably lives in another city, I thought.
As I was folding my dried clothes an old white woman came by and commented on the broken handle on one of the front loaders. "Someone must have decided to tear this off." I looked over my shoulder and said, "From the condition of the rest of the stuff in this place I'd say it's more likely that the handle fell off." Suddenly I had a moment of realization that this woman worked at the place. "Well, they come in here and let their kids run all around the place." As she said this she gestured with her head in the direction of a black woman, without kids, who had enough folded clothing in front of her to outfit a small army. It must have cost her twenty or thirty dollars to do all that laundry. I knew then that the old woman's "they" meant not just the customers, but particularly the customers of that other woman's race. For a second I thought about responding to the ridiculousness of her comment--as if someone without a washer and dryer could afford to hire a babysitter to watch the kids while she went and did the wash. But I just said, "I'd rather let my kids play outside in the mud than on the floors in here." I'd hit a nerve. She sighed wearily. "Well sometimes I just don't think I can keep on doing this. Back when Jack Gilmore owned the place he used to keep it up, but then he sold it. Old Mr. Dawkins don't hardly ever come in here now, and you can't get nobody to work for what he wants to pay them." She was angling for sympathy, I could tell. "Yeah, but I'll bet he doesn't have any trouble coming in here and emptying out the change from these machines, does he?" With a gleam in her eye, she nodded.