Americans have a few places where many different people come together and have to work out sharing. The highway, of course, is a prime example. But there is a specialized set of skills required to navigate the communal space of the laundromat. When I was younger, I frequently used a laundromat since I didn’t own a washer. In more recent years, I still use them to launder items too large to wash in my home machine such as throw rugs and comforters. On those infrequent occasions, I have been able spend my time observing and contemplating. It is too noisy to read and the television usually blares something obnoxious. I did once try to write a poem in the place, but failed.
Timing is everything in the laundromat. It is important to empty the washer as soon as the cycle is finished. Otherwise you risk having someone unceremoniously dump your wet load somewhere. Similarly, apparently you are to leap up when the dryer load is done. Again, you risk having your clothes dumped out on any available surface. While it is rude to stare at another person’s load waiting for it to be done(lest you be suspected of clothing theft) there is often just an instant between their conclusion and your opportunity to nab a machine. I would advise going when the place is empty, but I have never found a time when that is true.
You will encounter a variety of people from the elderly wheeling their carts down the sidewalk to large families with very bored toddlers. The conversation seems to be limited to “are you waiting for that machine” and “are these yours?”(asked in that 30 seconds you have failed to empty a machine.) The main characteristic seems to be territoriality, with people favoring certain dryers. Apparently some run longer on the same dime. If you know that, I think you have probably been hanging out there too often!
The main thing I have acquired in laundromats is deep compassion for people who don’t have washing machines. No one ever looks happy to be having to do their wash with others. Everyone would clearly rather be at home.