I had $1.25 but the washer wanted $1.50. Five quarters filled in the little slots, leaving one stubborn one empty. I had to do laundry, I had to leave San Francisco in a few hours, and I was just one quarter from making this happen.
I went back upstairs to the apartment, frantically looking everywhere. The shelf by the door only had pennies and nickels. The bowl on the coffee table had those and some dimes. The drawers were empty; no other change in a 25 cent denomination was to be found in that apartment.
The neighbor next door had his door propped open and seemed to be on his way to work. I knocked and asked if he had a quarter – he did! I jubilantly took it, thanked him, walked back to my apartment, noticed my door was slightly ajar and pulled it shut, realizing at that very moment that my pocket held my wallet, 6 quarters, and no keys.
Sheets went in, so did towels. Some socks and boxers and shirts went in too. As the machine whirred to life and spun the dirt out of the laundry, I climbed stairs to the manager’s apartment on the top floor (my neighbor reluctantly informed me), knocked several times, returned to the bottom floor, sat by the office. No one came by. I had no cell phone, no car keys, just my wallet. A lady waited for the elevator with her toddler. I asked her the time and if she knew whether the office opens at 10 am, and whether I should just wait until it does. She suggested I call the manager from the buzzer system outside, and I did, propping the door open to keep it from locking with my right foot.
George didn’t like hearing that I was locked out and said he wouldn’t be back for at least a couple of hours. As I asked him what else I could do, the system cut me off.
I walked down Powell in my t-shirt and gym shorts, deciding the only option at this point was to try to get in touch with the person I was subletting from who had a spare key. An overwhelmed hotel concierge pointed me to a laptop in their lobby which I got on to locate her phone number in an old email. Finding it, I asked if I could use the hotel phone but was instead guided to a pay phone which I couldn’t use due to my lack of 50 cents.
An older Asian lady sat at a desk and frowned at me when I walked in. In sputtering English she asked me which clothes I was there to pick up, what my ticket number was and a series of other questions before I was able to point at my piece of paper and somehow communicate that I needed to dial that number. She walked over to her cell phone and brought it over, dialing the number herself and handing me the phone.
In 30 mins, I had to be at Pine and Gough to pick up a spare key. I excitedly walked the twelve blocks, feeling as if my day was soon to be in my hands once again. Key in hand a few minutes later, I walked up California and saw a cable car just about to start its trip back downtown and jumped on just before it had gone too far.
I walked in the front door, George walked in a minute later. Upstairs, I slipped the key in, turned the knob, opened the door and saw my keys sitting there on the coffee table.