"After enlightenment, the laundry."

- Zen Proverb

There are few places as equally utilitarian and joyful as laundromats. While people rarely connect the act of doing laundry with merriment, it can, in the right place, turn out to be good, clean fun.

Rebecca Levitt, who has used the Main Street Laundromat downtown, says she's always been fond of laundromats. "I love just walking past them. That smell takes me to a good place, a warm feeling."

In cities such as New York and San Francisco, laundromats host poetry readings, concerts or even serve as bars. Ashland's downtown Main Street Laundromat should consider a night of verse or song. It's the perfect place for a poem and a poet. Dreamy romantic types are often washing their clothes on weekday evenings. And like most laundromats, it is warm, familiar and offers the harmonizing rhythms of the washers and dryers as a backup to the spoken word. Add the comforting scent of soap, as well as a fully committed audience waiting for their clothes, and what poetry lover could ask for more?

A recent Ashland visitor who stopped at the laundromat said much the same. "This place is cool. I could start singing in here and no one would mind."

Remarkably, a woman named Amy said just that very thing happened during her last laundromat visit. "A folk singer sang protest songs about war and poverty, in between loads. He was a good guitar player. It was a nice way to spend the morning."

Suds-Ur-Duds in the Ashland Street Plaza near Albertsons boasts free WiFi. Users can check e-mail or pay bills as they wait. The steady drum of laundry marries the snappy speed racer of technology. A first-time visitor to this laundromat said he'd give it a try on his next visit. "It would be nice to multi-task. I usually just block out two hours for laundry, and do nothing else." A mother of two young boys says she likes to come once a week. "The kids are happy to watch the clothes spin, and I can read a book."

At Henry's Laundromat next to Bookwagon in the Ashland Shopping Center, a man was sitting quietly in a corner, meditating on the dryer near him. Turns out he wasn't even doing laundry. He'd had a bit too much to drink the night before. "It's quiet, the light is soft, and I just want to be in a clean place," he said. He was not feeling his best, but rather than sit in a dark room and feel sorry for himself, he went to a bright space and focused on the clean, tangible works of his fellow man.

A young Ashland man said local laundromats are a good place to meet girls. "I'm a little shy, but it's easy to ask a question about bleach or the change machine. Girls will talk more if they think they are helping you."

A woman who frequents Henry's Laundromat had different thoughts. "I've met men in other places, but never hooked up in a laundromat. I tend to go early on Sundays when it's just couples with kids, responsible-looking college students and middle-aged women. Not much romantic opportunity there, and it's weird to think of hooking up when you're folding your sheets and underwear anyway."

A man near the dryers disagreed. "In a small town, you meet people doing everyday stuff. Romance can happen in a pure place."