I know a few of the business owners in Garberville, and I even consider a couple of them friends, but when they all get together, it can get ugly, and a few of them make our greed-bag dope yuppies look like Mother Theresa by comparison. I’m not a big fan of the black market marijuana industry, but if you buy a bag of weed from one of our local growers, at least it will get you high. On the other hand, if you try washing your clothes at either of our local laundromats here in SoHum, you’ll pay a premium to use the machines, but your clothes will come out of them dirtier and smellier than when they went in.
Whether you go to the laundromat in Redway or the one in Garberville, it’s the same story. Those machines will ruin your clothes and charge you for the service. I don’t know where she finds those machines, but I’ve never seen weaker, more anemic agitator action in my life, and they just give up if you try to put more than about five socks in one load. You will find no running water at either facility, so if you get laundry soap on your hands, there’s no place to rinse it off. God help you if you need to use a restroom, and the places couldn’t be uglier.
A friend and I were talking. We both live off-grid, and so we both understand the real cost of conventional luxuries. “My washing machine uses a lot of juice.” he said.
“You have a washing machine?” I replied.
“Oh yeah,” he said, “I had to get one. It didn’t matter how much it cost or how much electricity and water it uses, I absolutely had to get one.”
“Why?” I asked.
“I can’t go into that laundromat. I had to stop. I kept getting into fights.” he told me, adding, “I cannot go into that laundromat, either of them, without getting into a fight. I mean, I’m not a violent guy. I could be totally plastered, at a rowdy bar, and I will have no problems, but if I walk into one of those laundromats, stone cold sober, I swear, within fifteen minutes, I’m ready to kill somebody.”
I know how he feels. My partner Amy washes most of our clothes at home, by hand, rather than use those machines. Truth be told, we have no place to wash clothes in Southern Humboldt. Instead, we have two facilities offering coin-operated, wardrobe ruining, anger generators. This we all learn, over time. Pamela Van Meter owns both of them. This petite, elderly woman also owns The Paper Mill, the only copy shop and stationary store in town, and the place where I buy pen refills when I need them.
I would describe Ms. Van Meter as a perfect lady. She always dresses nicely. In the summer, she loves to wear white. I distinctly remember her, strolling down the fairway at Summer Arts and Music Festival, all dressed-up in a crisp, spotless white dress, with a lacy white parasol over her head. She looked great. Many times I’ve seen her stepping out of her spotlessly clean white luxury SUV in a spotless white pantsuit. You’d think she knew something about doing laundry.
She knows something about doing business though. I’m sure those laundromats help her “clean-up” more than they help her customers clean anything. She knows that she’s got us over a barrel, so she lets her attendants catch the shit, while she skims the cream. You can’t help but feel the contempt for the customer when you’re in there.
Even if you arrived at the laundromat in a good mood, by the time you’ve pushed your quarters into the machine, spent an hour or so in the bleak, depressing interior, staring at the cracked plaster walls, and then noticed that big oily stain across the front of your new shirt, the big oily stain that wasn’t there when you put the shirt in the machine, your mood has changed. You could walk into the laundromat as happy as Spongebob Squarepants, but by the time you leave, you feel like Mad Max.
When a merchant sets up a vibe like that, it’s bound to reverberate through town in various ways. Imagine some tourists, who, after emerging from two weeks of backpacking in the King Range, spend their first hour back in civilization, at one of our laundromats having the clothes they hope to clean, ruined, while they wait. They’re pissed about the big oily stains. They want to wash the laundry soap off of their hands. They need to use the bathroom, and they can’t wait to get the hell out of that place.
They’re not happy. If they go to a restaurant after that, they’ve already forgiven about as much as they’re willing to forgive for one day. If the restaurant screws-up their order, there’s going to be hell to pay. It becomes a vicious cycle, as the employees who absorb all of this dissatisfaction, become dissatisfied with their jobs, and the more dissatisfaction people feel, the more hostile they become.
I recall remarking to my partner as we drove through Garberville for the very first time, almost 20 years ago now. “This seems like a very sad little town.” I said. I don’t think it’s gotten any happier. Happy people spend more money, but once you’ve been ripped-off, you’re out for revenge. In this way, a few greedy merchants can suck the goodwill right out of a town.
Personally, I think the Garberville/Redway Chamber of Commerce would do much better to focus on solving these kinds of problems within the business community, rather than scapegoating and harassing the people who live here. The new No Loitering, No Panhandling, No Smoking signs that just went up all over town don’t make the place any classier. If anything, those signs make me want to take up smoking, just so I can lurk menacingly on the sidewalk, in my stained shirt, blowing smoke in people’s faces while I beg them for spare change.
Keep this in mind. If you have an unpleasant encounter with an obnoxious person in dirty clothes on your next visit to Garberville. Don’t take it personally. It’s not about you; It’s about the laundromat.