Sunday, January 31, 2010

Laundromats: Class Status Symbol

Those of you reading this post from somewhere that is not Orange County might not immediately agree with the following observation, but I assure you that it's accurate. At least in my limited experience, it's definitely accurate.

I remember going to the laundromat as a kid when we had less money than we do now. I very clearly remember not having a dryer until I was about 14 years old, which means planning out which jeans you wanted to wear many days in advance to be sure they had time to dry during the winter months when outdoor line drying was out of the question. Obviously it takes more money to afford the luxury of a washer and dryer in your home. This can mean more than just the cost of the appliances. For instance, we had to update the electrical in our house before we could install the dryer. But laundromats have taken on a new meaning for me as a renter in Orange County.

I think it's common not to have laundry facilities in apartment buildings in larger metropolitan areas, especially if the buildings are "vintage," read old. However, from my experience as a renter in Orange County almost all apartment buildings have on-site laundry. My last complex ripped us off, but it was sure convenient. Now I have to schlepp my clothes to the laundromat where something inevitably goes wrong. Bleach marks out of nowhere, my white tank always coming out with dirt streaks on it that weren't there before (note to self: hand wash that from now on), odd smells coming from the machine that is supposed to CLEAN your clothes not make them funky, etc.

At first I was excited because it was so much cheaper than the apartment complex laundry rooms, but after experiencing bugs falling on my head from the ceiling or drying my clothes for over an hour only to be surrounded by them as I write this because they still aren't dry, the thrill is gone. Those of us without access or without funds to acquire washers and dryers are forced to endure the injustice of laundromat funkiness. It's a compelling social problem, I think. Well, it's at least indicative of a compelling social problem. Us laundromat goers represent the people living in the least accommodating of apartments, the rented homes with hook-ups but tenants who can't afford the appliances, or the home owners in similar situations to my family in the early years. Then there's the big elephant in the room known as race. You can't help but notice the lack of white people, although that might be more of a reflection of my neighborhood than laundromats specifically.

I hope people don't think I am really THAT concerned with laundromats. I don't really mind it, even though it's inconvenient. When I move, I would move to a complex without laundry if I liked it otherwise. I just find it interesting that in Orange County pretty much the only people using laundromats are those lacking resources, except for maybe in the Newport Beach area. I went to a laundromat there once with a friend and there were a lot of college kids. If/when I move to Long Beach I expect the laundromat crowd will be a lot more eclectic.

I've gone on too long. Just another observation that reflects the sharp class and race divisions in Orange County nobody wants to talk about.

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