Have I mentioned that I love doing laundry? Well, it’s true. I pretty much love everything about it: the sorting, the measuring, the folding. I love the sense of renewal promised by a drawer full of clean socks and underwear.
I love doing laundry at home, and I even enjoy spending time at laundromats (unless they are exceptionally scuzzy). Every once in a while, one of our quilts or other large item needs washing. I usually jump at the chance.
Beyond my pure love of laundry, I had another motive today. Even though I’ve been relatively unsuccessful there in the past, a laundromat seems like a good place to give away money. Louise casually said, “pick your laundromat wisely” and it occurred to me that I did not have to go back to the quasi creepy place in Hollywood. That’s how I ended up today at the Belmont Ec0 Wash.
The parking lot was full. This place is state-of-the-art. Professional Electrolux washers, and dryers big enough to camp in, are lined up along the walls. I had to read the directions three or four times before I found where to put the detergent and got the washer going.
There’s even a used bookstore next door – one of those with piles of musty books everywhere. I took a spin through there once my wash was underway. There was a woman pacing back and forth in the bus stop outside, smoking a cigarette and glancing up the street every few seconds.
“Looks like it’s gonna rain,” I offered. “Yeah,” she said. “They weren’t lying this time!” She turned away and the moment passed.
I finished my wash without passing along this week’s hundred. I took another look at the bus stop as I got into my car. It was empty.
Maybe on my way home I’d see someone waiting at a bus stop. The rain was coming down hard.
Sure enough, a few blocks down Belmont I saw a man sitting alone at a bus stop. I decided to pull over but it was too late; the street was lined with cars. I turned at the corner to go around the block and ran into a series of dead ends. A large apartment complex stretched for blocks and it was quite a while before I was able to circle around. “If he’s still there,” I told myself, “he’s the one.”
There he was. I was ready this time and found a place to pull over. I jumped out of the car and looked down the street to make sure the bus wasn’t coming. As I approached, I noticed a bag of fast food on the bench next to him. His sweatshirt was soaked with rain. He smiled. “Are you waiting for the bus?” I asked. The dumbest question ever, but his answer surprised me. “No, I’m just waiting for a friend to pick me up,” he said. “How about you?”
“Me either!” I admitted. “I actually just came over here to talk to you.” He shrank back a little. “Why?” “Well, I have something I want to give to you,” I said. “What is it?” he asked with a cautious smile.
I patted my pockets, not remembering where I had stashed the bill. “I know it’s here somewhere.” He was studying me, wide-eyed. I found the bill and held it out to him. “Here it is! This is for you!”
“Hunh? Just like that? What?”
I laughed and said, “Yeah, just like that! No strings attached!”
“Can I give you a hug?” asked the man. He said his name was Kevin. “This is gonna really help me out!”
Kevin told me he had just gotten back into town yesterday. He had left for a while but it didn’t work out, so now he was back and looking for work and a place to stay. “How about another hug?” he asked.
He said he’d been feeling pretty down, and just trying to accept that things were going to be tough for a while. “But this is amazing! You’ve given me a whole new motivation!” he announced. “And I’m definitely gonna pay it forward! Somehow, some way! I don’t know how yet but you can count on that!”
I took Kevin’s picture and showed it to him. “Oh, man, I’m looking pretty rough!” he decided. “Just look at that hair!” I said all I saw was his great big smile and handsome face, and it was true.
His phone rang and it was his friend, on her way to pick him up. “Just wait till you get here!” he said. “I have the most amazing story to tell you. Well, it’s not a story! It’s happening right now! It’s unbelievable!” He told her the cross street where he was waiting. “I’m at the bus stop! The best bus stop ever! I love this bus stop!”
Before we said goodbye he hugged me again and took my hand. He held on for a minute and then he gave the back of my hand the sweetest kiss. “I’m so grateful,” he said.
As I was getting into my car I saw his friend pull up. Kevin dashed across the street, the story ready to burst right out of him.
PS I said a very fond farewell yesterday to Nikole Hannah-Jones. She and her family are moving to New York, where Nikole will continue her work as an investigative journalist with ProPublica. After learning about it on Facebook in October 2010, Nikole took my story to heart and wrote about it for the Oregonian. Her piece got a lot of attention and won a number of awards. I am deeply grateful for her friendship and will miss her. A lot.
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