Wringing in the New Year at the Laundromat
By Lorne Opler, Fri., Dec. 31, 1999
A clean wardrobe in my closet will only last about a week before I start to reverse my underwear and socks and wear them inside out -- a concept that no mother on earth wants to know about -- (sorry, Mom). So my choices, in this oft-repeated situation, are two. Buy more undergarments, or get off my tochus and do laundry. Laundry always wins, as I'm too poor and too unchic to pay the $15 required for a pair of signature gatkees (that's underwear in Yiddish). And if you're Jewish and it's Christmas Eve in Austin, Texas, really, what else is there to do except laundry? So that was my plan this past week.
But like everybody else with a day off, I found myself in a lazy holiday mood. Before I could say, "Surf's up!" I fell fast asleep.
The stench from my laundry pile woke me up from my slumber with a jolt. Had it been minutes? Hours? Whatever the case, the dirty clothes were still in need of attention. I grabbed the box of blue-specked, mega-stain-removing, perfume-drenched soap flakes, bolted out the door, and cycled to the local laundromat. Rolling into the packed parking lot, I shuddered at the thought of, yet again, having to wait an hour for available machines. As I fantasized about owning my own Speed Queen, a steward in a starched Beefeater approached me with an offer of free bicycle valet parking. Before I knew what was happening, I was whisked off my gel seat by a second white-gloved, brass-buttoned attendant who escorted me (and my laundry) across a candy-red velvet carpet to the private entrance of the preferred frequent-washer lounge.
My local neighborhood Wash 'n' Dry had overnight become a laundrospa.
While still trying to comprehend this shock to my class sensibilities, my soiled wardrobe was gently taken from my hands and cheerfully deposited into a machine by yet a third obliging helper, who then invited me to the massage studio for a half-hour shiatsu indulgence. Later, as I soaked in a potpourri-infused mineral bath, a soothing computer-generated voice emanated from a state-of-the-art sound system to update me on the status of my washed, rinsed, and spun garments. After a sumptuous dim sum buffet and spring 2000 fashion show preview, the wafting scent of ocean clean dryer sheets told me that my clothes were almost done. As I made one last quick trip to the aromatherapy bar, the sudden shrill of my alarm clock yanked me from the best laundry experience of my life.
Alas, it was only a dream.
Bleary-eyed, I spied the laundry bags sitting at the foot of my bed and sighed. No pampered, catered fantasy would await me and my shmatehs at the local laundrodungeon, after all. Let's be real, now. Laund-romats are nobody's holiday vacation destination -- well, not most people's, that is. But for some of us, laundry is what we will be doing this New Year's Eve. While most Austinites will be partying away at A2K, there are those of us, believe it or not, who will be sorting socks and scraping lint to usher in the new century.
Why? For one thing, it's one of the few days on the calendar when machines are guaranteed to be free. And, yes, there are those of us who cringe at the notion of ringing in the year with ring around the collar. So, in tribute to all who will be raising a cup of Cheer (that's the detergent kind) on New Year's Eve, here is review of some of Austin's do-it-yourself cleaners. Note that since some operations may not be actually open when the Lone Star drops on Sixth Street, and that some may change their hours of operation on New Year's Day, you may wish to get your whites and brights done early in the Eve.
FIRST STREET LAUNDRY
1634 E. Cesar Chavez, 476-3814 This funky, friendly place boasts two amenities none of the other more modern facilities can claim -- a full-size pool table, and two of those old-fashioned gumball machines you rarely see today that dispense candy and peanuts. Coming soon, a third machine will spit out a handful of non-hydrogenated carob-coated, organic red lentils (I guess I'm dreaming again.) Regular washing machines run $1 per load, dryers are 25 cents for 10 minutes.
2100 S. Lamar, 448-7856 Did you know that each clothes dryer generates enough BTUs in heat to fire up a small house? This is what I learned from my visit to one of Austin's most ubiquitous chain laundromats. Soda, change, and soap dispensers on premises. Nice and clean and South Austin cool.
BEN WHITE LAUNDRY
2919 Manchaca, 441-5481 I really liked this place. Why? Because this is a one-of-a-kind operation -- not part of a franchise based in some big eastern city. The friendly, eager staff of this mom-and-pop shop try hard and give great customer service. All the regular amenities -- change, soda, and snack machines. For an extra buck, they'll let you and one friend roll around in the dryer with your laundry, and take your picture, too. (Just kidding.) Wash for a buck and dry for 25 cents for 10 minutes.
11689 Research, 502-9201 Who'da thunk a laundromat in tony North West Hills? Proof that even in the land of beemers, dinks, and yuppies, communal cleansing still exists. Pretty typical -- all the amenities. Wood paneling on the walls makes you feel like you're really doing laundry in your own basement.
3501 Guadalupe, 380-0218 A place where you can feel proud for not owning your own Maytag combo. Part of a nationwide chain of laundromats, this newish facility boasts a huge space, the greatest number of machines on the tour, and first-class amenities, like several TV monitors built into the cabinetry. No dim sum carts yet, but definitely the posh of wash. $1.25 will wash a standard load, and 25 cents will get you 12 minutes of dryer time.
2915 Guadalupe, 236-8545 I have seen the future of Austin laundromats and it is Ecomat -- the city's first environmentally sensitive commercial laundry facility. Part whistle-clean self-serve laundromat, part dry cleaners, Ecomat has earned inclusion into Co-op America's Green Business Registry as an establishment committed to earth-friendly practices, such as eliminating the use of toxic chemicals in their cleaning process. Wins the "petroleum-free, biodegradable-plant-derived, renewable bronzed detergent box" award. So, after reading about the city's booming laundry circuit, you're thinking that maybe doing the suds on your duds thing may not be such a geeky New Year's Eve idea after all, right? I mean, you don't have to drive far (or drive at all), you won't get puked on by some blitzed out bubba, and best of all, the whole evening out won't cost you more than a few bucks (drinks and finger food included).
Indeed, far from being the place where only the lonely spend the holiday, I predict laundromats to be the next wave of urban nightlife. The year 2000 will see this city's world-renowned music scene discover the huge untapped market that laundromats offer. Bands will begin gigging at every corner cleaner, turning Austin into the "Live Laundromat Capital of the World!"
And after that, who knows? With the best laundromat scene in the country, it's only a matter of time until the Austin Sock Exchange is born -- a frenzied furious place where people who lose their hose can shout orders and swap socks, all the while dancing to a beat that is April fresh and 100% Austin.
Lorne Opler hopes that this article will pay for some new underwear.
Capital Metro's New Laundry Express bus service (which even Cap Metro doesn't know about yet) can take you to (or drop you close by) any of these fine Austin laundromats.