Doing the laundry with human beings

The door to the laundromat was propped open. The smell of fabric softener floated out into the warm, almost-spring day. A young woman unloaded T-shirts, blouses and pants from a dryer. Her daughter, about 6 or 7, waited nearby.

“Hi, I’m Deidre, and I write for Reno News & Review,” I began. “I’m doing a piece on household incomes, reported to be dropping across the nation.”

The woman sized me up quietly.

“I’m talking to people about whether they’re making enough to get by, how they’re making ends meet.”

The panicked look in her eyes made me realize I’m rusty with “person on the street” reportage. I talk to people everywhere, all the time, but informally, not for attribution.

Dynamics shift when I become The Media.

That’s OK. Reporters need to go out and talk to humans. Lately I’ve had a chronic case of navel-gazitis—a common journalistic malady.

As of Feb. 22, I’ve been writing “View from the Fray” for five years. I don’t run out of topics. But sometimes I jam up like a gouged DVD. This week, I’d begun yet another rant about freedom or the lack thereof. It sucked. I needed fresh perspectives.

Hence my trip to a Sparks laundromat. I approached people confidently. At the word “reporter,” though, potential sources clammed up.

Finally I met Franz, 66, who was folding whites. I mentioned dropping household incomes, he shook his head.

“So terrible,” he said. “People having to work three jobs just to pay the bills.”

Franz is a retired theater company manager from New York. He came to Nevada around 20 years ago with a $99 airline ticket.

“I knew there were no [state income] taxes,” Franz said. “And I’m sick and tired of paying all these taxes when we know how the government is spending the money. That horrible war and buying all those trailers that dissolve in the mud. Did you hear about those?”

He was referring to the 11,000 FEMA trailers in Arkansas that remain empty, sinking into a cow pasture.

“A lot of people are disenchanted,” he said in a lovely European accent.

Franz came to the United States in 1963—"the year Kennedy was shot.” He applied for citizenship. He’s loved his country even though it doesn’t compare so well to those where workers make a living wage. Franz, a registered non-partisan voter, believes in personal responsibility—people should save, use credit carefully. Businesses should also be made accountable to workers by raising the minimum wage and making health care widely available.

“That’s a racket,” he said. “The world’s richest country! If the senators in Congress have health care, why shouldn’t we have it?”

Franz speaks his mind with caution.

“I wouldn’t go around wearing a T-shirt on an airplane that said something nasty about the president,” he said. “I wouldn’t put a bumper sticker on my car because I think some people will react on your comments and maybe drive into your car.”

He’s not entirely joking.

“I wouldn’t push the envelope, though I think that might be cowardly,” he said. “I feel free, but then I don’t.”

He referenced widespread unrest over cartoons that offended many Muslims by depicting the Prophet Mohammed.

“Sometimes people are just waiting for an outlet to let out their anger,” Franz told me. “There are always people that love to riot, even in Europe. It’s a trait in mankind.”

He and I care about many of the same things. I wonder how many Northern Nevadans feel similarly “disenchanted.”

I’d like to find out—so if you see me in the laundromat or coffee shop or bar, let’s talk.