Stonewash was my only option.
I was living on 100 South in the Ellis Building, in the middle of a nasty and public break-up and without a car. There wasn’t a laundry machine in the apartment complex and I needed a place to wash my clothes. Hauling a month of dirty laundry in a duffle bag to the only coin-op laundromat that also doubled as a bar, I would make the depressing trek every 30-days praying something better was around the corner. My life consisted of slinging drinks at The Tavernacle, getting drunk and hoping something could change how depressed I was. Feelings of dread and hopelessness are easy to fall into when your life is at a junction and squandered opportunities hang over your head like placards.
In 2004, my placard read: “Work in progress. Check back later.”
There is nothing more pathetic than a coin operated laundromat. The machines are a communal vessel of a thousand poor, shitty, trashy clothes being banged against a destroyed machine, dried in a scented furnace and folded on a communal table unfit for cleaning a raccoon carcass. There are way too many kids screaming for change to buy second-rate candy from an overpriced vending machine and everybody is using Sun detergent. The room never feels clean. Even after every shirt and pant has been folded, you leave feeling used and spent for the hours wasted in a sweaty, boring assembly line of dented and foul smelling machines where the chairs are as uncomfortable and awkward as the people sharing the space with you.
Stonewash’s only upside is that they sold beer and I would drink as many steins of beer paid for in quarters as I could in the time it took to work my way through a bag of clothes. It wasn’t my only option when it came to doing laundry but considering the alternatives, it was my best. I hated that I would pass the time with a tankard of beer while my whites and coloreds spun segregated waiting for me to fold and haul back to my crummy apartment.
Waiting for my laundry to wash, I would drink beer and stare at the shoddy TVs. Typically, ESPN or Telemundo would fight for viewership. I never cared. I was either looking into my beer or reading a book waiting to take dry my clothes. The televisions were more of a distraction than a point of interest but something in the summer of 2004 captured me. The Democratic Convention was meeting in Boston and the junior senator from Illinois was getting ready to deliver the keynote address.
It’s rare that you can remember life changing moments and contextualize your experience with specific details. Meeting Erin, seeing Aliens for the first time, hitting my first royal flush and discover the Crown Burger are transcendent moments that I will never forget. Everything about these moments are locked in my brain and are treasured points in my development. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the dates. This is probably what makes 27 July 2004 so important. Between swigs of beer and throwing my clothes into the drier, I witnessed the greatest political event of my life. In combining my white and colored clothes into a 55-gallon drum of a drier, I was introduced to Barack Obama as he took the podium to give the keynote address at the Democratic Convention.
Every machine was in use at Stonewash as the skinny kid with a funny name who believes America has a place for him took to the podium. Being over 6-feet tall, I went to the high mounted television and cranked the volume over the sound of washers and driers. With stein in hand, I shushed a room full of Americans—white, black, Mexican, Indian and Asian—who shared nothing in common but lack of laundry machines as Barack Obama gave his Audacity of Hope speech. Political discourse was meager at Stonewash but for 20 beautiful minutes, the room fell silent as Obama introduced himself to the world.
I posted up and watched the gangly state senator from Illinois begin his talk. He eked confidence and poise. Young, smart and dashing, he looked like someone I might have poured a drink for or on a better day, had one with. Obama set the table with the diversity of his background and got to the business of dissecting that this country is not nearly as divided as the right would like us to believe.
We worshipped the same God, the success of our youth effect everyone, social liberalism has a place against government involvement and inherently we all, as Americans, share a commonality stronger than the differences that we label upon ourselves. The red and blue America negatively distinguishes all of us and that there is no great future for the United States of America from hammering what we disagree upon but rather focusing on what we share. He outlined a nation that was in crisis with the war in Iraq and the distress domestic and foreign issues which were dividing us. Ultimately, he cited that membership and belief in the American experience trumped any of the trivial difficulties we as a community were experiencing. At the end of the day, everyone living in the 50 states were Americans and we gave more of a shit about each other than political ads gave us credit for.
His view for the future included everyone. It was sweeping, beautiful and rang true. Between folding T-shirts, fitted sheets and cargo shorts, I knew that I had just seen the next president of the United States.
It was the first smile I had in a long time. Obama’s strength came from promoting both our faults and strengths. He outlined an imperfect world that we all inhabit and work to change in our own ways. Our ability to change our lives was the result of work and dedication. Obama set the stage for a future that was based in a promise of hope and a return towards a shared future.
Hope was a word that seemed to escape the lips of America’s citizens when Bush was elected and two planes flew into the World Trade Center. Times were dark with friends and citizens in harm’s way thousands of miles from home, the economy shot and no common goal to work through. We were asked to toe the line with no promise of a better day. I might be jaded because I am a Democrat but living through 8-years of George W. Bush was an incredible bummer. Obama reminded me at that moment hope is not a fool’s errand or a sentimentist’s dream.
Obama became a rally call to a better future and when he came to visit Utah in 2007. There was an impromptu rally at the base of the Olympic Park. It was a soapbox speech minus the box. He was surrounded by about 2,000 people and gave a brief speech. He touched on the economy, the future of this country and why he needed our support. In his closing moments, he walked the ring of barricades and shook hands, signed his book and took photos. Erin was close enough to shake his hand and for me to get a picture of her with him in the background. It probably was the best drive down Parley’s we’ve ever had.
The Endorsement. I am not suggesting if Romney wins that this country would fall off the face of the Earth. While I don’t agree with Romney, I’m sure he wouldn’t use the movie The Omen III as his blueprint for his vision of this country. I will not be committing seppuku, moving to Canada or planning to stage a coup. Maybe having a straight businessman running the nation for four years is a worthy social experiment that could actually work out positively for the country. All I am suggesting is that if Romney wins, it will be an incredible bummer.
Obama has a strength that can create real change in this country. Domestically, Obama passed health care legislation, expanded national service, reformed student loans, passed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, restored financial systems and kept the country safe. Internationally, Obama killed Osama bin Laden, warmed our relationship with Russia, gotten rid of torture, kept Iran in check, ended combat missions in Iraq and made us look like a little less douchey on the world stage. Not bad for four years.
Obama provides a balance between gravitas and commonality. He’s funny, personable and caring without being creepy—i.e., telling people he has Mexican roots because his father was born in Mexico in a polygamist camp. Obama’s journey is a representation of the American experience—the immigrate story. He has empathy and understands the value of all the citizens. I have absolutely no faith that Romney understands what me and my family go through every day to keep ourselves afloat.
In the end, Obama is a harder worker than Romney. Obama is smarter. Obama is the future while Romney represents a throwback to an era of self-entitled, self-serving, narrow-minded elitists running the country. We all would be better served with Barack Obama with another term in office. More than anything, we can’t have a guy in the White House who can’t drink a beer and puff a butt every now and then. I have never trusted a man who hasn’t had a drink and I am certainly not going to start.
Just because we live in a state that will be called for Romney the moment the polls close doesn’t mean it isn’t important to vote. Vote to prove to yourself and the nation that we stand with Obama. Imagine what he could do with four more years and what Romney might do. What else are you going to do with the liquor stores closed on a Tuesday?
Ben Raskin bartends at Keys On Main Wednesday through Saturday. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin. Check out the SLC PubCast on iTunes. Maybe Mitt Romney has a better name than Barack Obama but in all honesty, Mitt is a still pretty weird.