I went on the search for an old school coin-op laundry yesterday, but couldn’t find any that met my nostalgic requirements. I spent many hours of my childhood sitting in laundromats. My parents owned one, and we also used to visit one regularly to wash all the tea towels we used at our family pizza shop. We even went to Melbourne once for laundromat research. I think my parents stopped my brother and I whinging by swinging us by the zoo at one point in order to try and stop us from realising we were actually on a laundromat study tour of Melbourne’s outer suburbs.
After Sydney’s continual rain and our lack of a clothes dryer, there was no way I was going to catch up on all the washing and drying that needed to be done, and I needed the help of a large commercial (and preferably quirky retro looking) clothes dryer.
It seems all the laundries around here now are ‘drop off your bag and come back later’ style arrangements. I did not wish for this. I wanted somewhere I could go, do my washing myself, and practice teeline shorthand (with my notes sprawled out over a sturdy table designed to have clothes folded upon it) while waiting for my clothes to wash and dry. Preferably while overhearing some interesting conversations, meeting some interesting backpackers or being left to my own devices to take some interesting photos of vintage style appliances.
After a quick cruise around in the car, I drove past many dissapointing locations, and finally settled on a laundry in Glebe that looked promising. It had pale blue linoleum floors and dryers that were a peppermint colour that screamed "I dried flairs and flowered tunics the first time that they were cool". Two of my requirements met. There was also a high stack of trashy magazines which was promising. Unfortunately, no big table, just a narrow wooden bench along the wall.
But once again, this wasn’t really a self service laundry. You had to give your coins to the nice quiet man behind the counter, and he gave you a token in return. The attendent seemed nice and quite a few locals popped in to pick up their bagged washing and dry cleaning (once again, not just an old school coin op). But he kept on watching me with suspicion, probably wondering what all the squiggles I was drawing were. And I couldn’t take any cool photos because it was attended. There weren’t any interesting conversations to eavesdrop on.
All round, a bit of a dissapointment. One lady who did pop by to say hello to Mr Quiet Laundry Man to tell him that she thought the rain was going to start up again actually reminded me of the washing lady who inabited a small cupboard like room at the laundry near my primary school at home.
This lady was never seen without a ciggarette hanging from her mouth. She would drop the ash over the ironing, and she also knitted ugly jumpers as a little money spinner on the side.
Apparently she was an heir to the Wedgewood (I think) porcelain fortune. She was never short of life advice for anyone who asked or who just looked like they needed it. And she used to take longer to get a load of washing and ironing done than my mother, which is a pretty big achievement.
The churning of the machines, the hyponotic swirling of clothes in the dryers, the sound of footsteps on the lino and the constant chatter of people who have a brazen air of life experience about them. That’s what I remember about laundromats.
I also remember being really bored when stuck in them for a long time, going down to the fish and chip shop to get some lollies while waiting, and doing homework on those big wooden laundry tables.
I had a zen-like laundry experience in Budapest last year where a local women and I talked for ages while the angry laundry lady (with tea towel tied around her head, decked out in an old washer woman style skirt and apron) huffed and puffed because she was being excluded and the women was complaining about how she overcharges.
Maybe city laundries were just never as rustic as the Albury ones I remember from my youth.
Nostalgia quota was not met. But at least my clothes are all washed and dry now.
Does anyone know of any coin op laundries in Sydney that are bursting with character and old school charm? The peppermint dryers would have made a great photo opportunity.