Tuesday, 19 February 2008

hubs and suds

The laundromat smells of chemicals and people. It’s overcrowded. Empty bags and containers sit on the top of machines waiting to be refilled with cleaner contents. Strangers engage in lively debate about the cost of living while folding socks and underwear. My poor French allows in only hints of the surrounding conversations and I allow myself to drift into musings about hubs.

Hubs are meeting places. Connection points where realities touch.

Some are explicitly designed for engagement and sharing e.g. conference venues, cultural centres and clubs.

Other hubs are not necessarily for the sole purpose of meeting others. Interaction here is seen as an added benefit, or annoyance depending on your disposition. Train stations, parks, supermarkets and laundromats fall into this category.

And finally there are hub points that are more ephemeral, places where suddenly a crowd gathers for no apparent reason, or for a reason that will evaporate within a short space of time. These hubs form around accidents and altercations, important conversations, charismatic people and shiny objects. They are places of temporary attraction.

Hubs are places of immense potential and opportunity. They provide the container for explicit and implicit exchange. Ideas can be generated, lives can be changed, perhaps without any words spoken. A glance creates a love story, a smile stops a suicide.

My attention turns to my immediate surroundings.

A young black couple and middle aged, rather portly, white woman are having a very lively discussion on the challenges of bringing up children in this part of the city…or perhaps they are commiserating over the rising cost of vegetables. My language skills are challenged. Anyway, they are alternating between laughing and loudly agreeing with each other.

And now the couple are leaving, shouting out loud goodbyes to their new friend. She replies in kind and then turns her smiling attention to blouses and sheets.

Seeing this inspires me to search for further evidence of the importance of hub life. Unfortunately, as I look around, everyone seems to be too busy grabbing handfuls of underwear out of small, smudged, glass doors to be even remotely interested in having deep and meaningful conversation. Societal revolution is simply not as important as making sure socks are reunited and sheets come out in one piece.

Hope walks briskly through the door, woollen cap almost obscuring his eyes. Perhaps he will start another conversation to prove my point about hubs, life etc? Hope evaporates as he aims directly for the top left drier that is now finished its cycle. Roughly pulling out his hot clothes, he stuffs them into a cheap plastic bag and walks out again as if any delay could cost him his identity. I try to make eye contact but the scruffy brown hat seems to deliberately creep further down his face. I give up.

At this point, the washing machine spins dramatically then comes to an abrupt stop. I take it as a sign to finish this entry. Hubs are important…but not as important as my laundry.

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