It's a beautiful day in Menlo Park, California, and I am having my son's car washed at the local car wash, Ducky's, watching Mercedes and other nice vehicles roll out.
Earlier, I deposited my wife at the coin laundry in Palo Alto, along El Camino Real, just down from Stanford University. We haven't been to a coin laundry since college, over 30 years ago. It took us a while to figure things out. I only had a 20-dollar bill, so I fed it to the machine and it spit out 80 shiny quarters. I don't think I have held that many quarters in my hand, that is, two hands, for a long time, maybe since I collected coins as a boy, until a debt was called in and I liquidated the collection before the heat came down on me. I felt wealthy, like it might last me a long time. It didn't, of course, anymore than it did when I was a boy.
The laundry is a storefront, with a clock like we had in elementary school to count out the seconds for you while you wait for the washing, the faded walls peppered with colorful plaques here and there with encouragements like “Laughter is life's best medicine: LAUGH.” I smiled. A closed door has a sign on it that says “BOO,” some condescension to our time. It's hypnotic, the waiting, watching clothes tumble, a fetching repose. I'm taking it in, savoring the moment, as I don't know when I will get back to a coin laundry.
So I left her there with others who, for whatever reason, don't have a washer and dryer, and it made me wonder if I knew anyone who lacked a washer and dryer. I'm not sure. That shows how insular life can be, I suppose, so I am glad we came, glad to interact with the Hispanic attendant, who educated us college graduates on how to use washers. I'm humbled. I need to be put in my place.
But car washes and coin laundries are collateral benefits. The biggest thing? After five weeks, we have seen our son, been updated on his life here at Stanford, and seen that he is well, and that gladdens our hearts.
That, and the quarters still jingling in my pocket.