By MARISA GWIDT — “Oh, boy,” Charlie High sighs as he watches a college student drag in four heaping bags of laundry. “She won’t finish in time.”
It’s 9:50 on a Monday night at Starcrest Cleaners in Champaign. Charlie’s supposed to lock the doors at 11. Yet here is this young woman, opening a silver front-loader and preparing to toss in a load of darks. Charlie, 67 years old, hobbles over in cuffed, faded jeans and intervenes.
“Uh-uh,” he mutters to the student, shaking his head as though she were about to make a grave mistake. “I recommend that one,” he says, pointing to another washer outwardly identical.
“Really? What makes that one superior?” she inquires with a smile, already starting to inch over in its direction.
The question clearly takes Charlie aback. His customers rarely engage him — the Monday-through-Friday janitor — in conversation. Charlie removes his navy blue Sturgis biker hat and thoughtfully smoothes his thin gray hair with stout, pale fingers. He then replaces his hat and leans his short, heavy-set frame against the recommended washer.
This story was written by a University of Illinois journalism student in Professor Walt Harrington’s Literary Feature Writing class taught in collaboration with The News-Gazette. Funding for the class, which was taught at the newspaper’s headquarters in downtown Champaign, came from the Marajen Stevick Foundation. The story was part of an occasional series titled “Slices of Life” that ran in the newspaper’s Sunday Living section. All the stories in the series are also collected in the book “Slices of Life.”