The patron saint of the laundromat

Published 10:08am Thursday, July 24, 2014

It’s the same every week; I lug a huge pile of dirty clothes to the laundromat down the street. I avoid this trip for as long as possible, sometimes to the point of buying new clothes to delay the process. When I actually do have to do a load, it takes about three machines.

Because I dislike doing the laundry, I automatically dislike everyone who is there going through my same drudgery. I put headphones on to avoid conversation, even if I’m not actually listening to music. For most people, it’s like a waiting room where no one wants to make eye contact for fear of having to force a short conversation.

There are many different people who use the laundromat, not the crowd I usually meet during my interviews at board meetings or farmers markets. The hallmark of it has been a child who was so bored she resorted to unintelligible yelling as entertainment with a mother trying to finish the five loads of family laundry. That combined with the overpowering scent of cheap detergent adds to the overall ambiance of the place.

Last week, when I was on my final stretch of clean underwear, I caved in and went to the laundromat. I followed my usual routine of getting the clothes in the washing machine as quickly as possible and sitting in the corner with my headphones.

On this particular visit before I got my head phones on, a middle-aged black man (for story purposes I am dubbing him Patrick) tried to strike up a conversation with me. The cheerful man asked several questions that I answered as briefly as I could without being rude. He eventually gave up, smiled and moved to the next person.

I picked back up my phone and began playing an important level of Candy Crush, but I couldn’t help but continue to watch Patrick out of the corner of my eye.

He caught my attention when he began collecting the laundry carts that were scattered across the room and moving them to the corner so they would be out of the way. This is odd behavior for the laundromat folk who typically leave carts next to their machines.

A few minutes passed and an older gentleman hobbled up to the room with a bag of clothes. He wore a trucker hat and dingy overalls and walked as though every step was painful.

Patrick sprinted to the door like lightning, you would have thought the place was on fire. He grabbed the handle and swung it open as the older man hobbled in with his laundry. Patrick returned to his post next to the machine where his own clothes were twirling.

All of the top washing machines were in use at the time, so the older gentleman was forced to bend down and use one of the lower units. It was an obvious struggle. Patrick saw this and again sprinted across the room. He put his hand on the older man’s shoulder to signal him to stop. Patrick then bent down and loaded the machine with the man’s clothes.

For the next hour, I watched as Patrick conversed with the tired old man and followed him from washer to dryer. Even when Patrick’s own clothes were dry, he stayed to help the man.

No one was watching this guy. Nothing he did was an act. It was instinctual for him to react to a person in need. Why wasn’t it an automatic reaction for anyone else at the laundry?

Meanwhile, I continued to play on my phone, avoiding all human contact like the plague, and the child continued to entertain herself with a continuous bellow. It wasn’t until I got into my car and watched Patrick get into his that I realized how much of a schmuck the rest of us were.

No one likes doing laundry, but Patrick took it upon himself to make the tedious laundromat a less miserable place. That little act of kindness saved a man from breaking his back over a double load of laundry.

I never even got Patrick’s real name, but he has left a lasting impression. Watching him take that moment to look beyond himself to help others was an eye-opening experience. It’s easy for me to help people when I have it scheduled to help people. I love giving back, but at the laundromat, where I and everyone else is aching to get out as soon as possible, it didn’t even cross my mind that I could put down my phone and make that experience easier for someone else.

Thank you Patron Saint of the Laundromat. I have been reminded that I can do good, even while I am involved in my most loathsome task – laundry.

Katie Williamson is a news reporter for The Daily Leader. Contact her at