Spending Quality Time in a Laundromat

I am on the road over our mandatory seven-day Christmas break.  Instead of packing all the closes I need and lugging around a big, heavy suitcase, I like to pack a small one.  If I run out of clothes, I find a Laundromat.  Sure, I waste an hour or so of time, but the benefits of your run-of-the mill, neighborhood Laundromat more than makes up for the loss of time.

You are probably shaking your head, wondering what I mean by benefits.  I had the same train of thought when, approximately 20 years ago, my opinion changed.  It all started with a story a friend of mine told about a Laundromat in Crete, Nebraska.  The friend was the late Gene Schuppan.  He was employed by the Doane College Admission’s Office, but his talents far exceeded selling the college to 18 year old, soon-to-be high school graduates.

Gene had taught English courses one time at Kearney State College (University of Nebraska-Kearney).  If blogging or tweeting would have become popular during his lifetime, I have no doubt he would be very popular.  Gene could talk, he could sell, he could charm, and I never met a person that disliked Gene Schuppan.

Gene had a female friend that people in Maryville may know.  Dr. Beth Richards of the Northwest Missouri State University English Department, was a frequent companion of Gene’s.  Gene told me the story of Beth and him doing laundry in the neighborhood washing and drying facility.  They got into a small argument on the difficulty of writing poetry.

To prove his point, Gene proclaimed to Beth he could write a poem about the Laundromat and get it published.  Beth took that bet.  I don’t think money was to change hands, but a meal may have been involved.  Several weeks later, Gene surprised Beth with a copy of a magazine that publishes poetry submitted by its readers.  Good to his promise, Gene’s verses of spinning dryers and squeaky washers was written inside the magazine.

During my 15 years at Doane College, I spent a lot of time in Laundromats.  Since being employed by Northwest Missouri State University, my assistant, volunteer assistant, student assistant, or graduate assistant usually needs a job.  Making sure our dirty uniforms are washed and dried falls on these capable hands.  That wasn’t the case at an NAIA school like Doane College.  I was the coach, travel agent, meal arranger, laundry man, and whatever else needed accomplished.

After hearing Gene and Beth’s experience among the washers and driers, I decided the time spent in one of these establishments didn’t have to be wasted time.  I had a routine when the Tigers went on the road.  As we checked into our motels, my first question was directed to the location of the nearest uniform cleaning facility.  I rejected the benefit of laundry facilities in our motel.  I was out for the adventures.

When I first began searching for Laundromats, I was very leery of businesses that had bars over the window.  That usually meant I would stand out in that particular neighborhood.  Sometimes low income neighborhoods with youth wandering around with different colored handkerchiefs coming out of their back pocket were my only choice.  As skeptical as I was, these places seemed happy to have me spend the Doane College loose change at their establishment.

As we traveled around the country playing basketball, I got to experience culture all types of Americans.  One particular Laundromat was the biggest melting pots.  Hispanic mothers, African American fathers, Native American families, and little, old me was in the same location with the same goal; clean clothes.

I did get some strange looks when they saw exactly what I was washing and drying.  The black and orange basketball uniforms were a lot different than the toddler clothes, work uniforms, and the vast sizes of underwear the normal patron was cleaning.  However, I was left alone except for a friendly customer who thought I looked a little lonely in that surrounding.  If only they knew.

Not all the Laundromats were in low-income neighborhoods.  I would find shinny wash machines and spotless driers and they all looked very new.  I would have to bring quite a bit more change to these high-end, clothes-cleaning facilities.  It was nice not to have to worry about wearing a color of a rival gang.  The one negative was the people that ran these high-end businesses were never as friendly as the patrons of the Laundromats with bars on the window.  That was a good lesson for an old country boy like me.

I will readily admit that the only poetry I’ve ever attempted in my life was on Valentine’s Day in college and the verse began with, “Roses are Red. . . “  I am absolutely sure nothing I created in a Laundromat would be published.  Gene had created a one-in-a million document.  I don’t believe the friends I made in the different laundry businesses ever published a poem either.

I did use my time waiting for the washers to quit spinning or the driers to shut down to put together some impressive scouting reports.  My creation wasn’t with the written word, but with an array of X’s and O’s.  I spotted tendencies of our opponent’s, special formations that attempted to fool my college women round ballers, and secret hints on how to stop the opposing star’s offensive talents.

It may have been the simple fact I had better players than my road foes, but I liked to believe the private moments I spent in Laundromats made a difference in the team’s performance.  I even became superstitious of our road successes.  My only assistant might have a

the pain of guilt and offer to do the uniform’s laundry in the motel’s facilities.  I wouldn’t allow that to happen in a million years.  Not until we suffered a loss, anyway.

My dirty clothes experiences took me to small business in Illinois, Montana, Kansas, Iowa, Oklahoma, Texas,  Missouri, Florida, the Dakota’s, Mexico City, Hawaii and the Bahamas.  I’m sure I’ve left a few out.  I even did my son’s Little League team’s laundry in Festus, Missouri.  It might seem like a strange way to discover the cultures of America.  The problem I find is I can’t create poetry.

I can crank out a bunch of blogs, though.  I don’t know if these will ever be published beyond the Northwest web pages, Facebook, and tweets.  I just hope that my friend, Gene, who passed away about 11 years ago, would have been pleased with my stories of Laundromats.  Hey, Beth, I think this one will be published!

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Gene Steinmeyer

About Gene Steinmeyer

Gene Steinmeyer coached the Northwest Missouri State women’s basketball team for 13 seasons before retiring after 26 years as a collegiate head coach after the 2011-12 season. He retired as the second winningest women’s basketball coach at Northwest as his 2010-11 team won both the MIAA Regular Season and Tournament Championship advancing to the NCAA National Semifinals one game shy of the national championship game.