Living in Gordonsville while working in Charlottesville, as my girlfriend and I did for many months, had a certain romance to it. With the windows down and fresh air swirling inside the car, we enjoyed the winding morning commute through fields of grazing cattle and sheep. After nightfall, when we returned
to the old dairy farm where we rented a cottage, the darkness became so inky that we couldn’t see a
hand inches from our face, and the night sky was a shimmery blanket of stars.
But after a while, other things seemed as distant as constellations, and not romantic in the least. With no washer or dryer in our cute little rental, we resorted to the grungy laundromat nine miles away. The local restaurants were sparse and stopped serving early, so we often concocted our evening meal from whatever we found in the fridge. And driving the 50 miles round-trip every day turned from delightful to tedious.
A few months of this pushed us to the edge. We’re city folks at heart, so we were accustomed to easier access to laundry and food. Imagine our surprise (and joy!) when we found both in one place.
Hydraulic Wash, near The Shops at Stonefield, is all you can ask for in a laundromat: clean, well-lit, never
a wait for machines, and great people-watching. The major bonus is El Tako Nako, the food truck tucked
into a corner of the parking lot. It’s open from 5pm until midnight every day except Wednesday (when it’s closed), and it spawned a happy, cheap-and-cheerful tradition for us: date night at the laundromat.
Of course, we weren’t the only ones taking part in the suds-and-grub ritual. Many people lined up at
the window to place orders and, minutes later, pick up a plate of double-tortilla tacos and maybe a tall bottle of Mexican Coke, which tastes better than the domestic stuff because it’s sweetened with cane sugar instead of corn syrup. The smell of ingredients sizzling on the grill and the sound of Mexican pop music poured out of the truck. Customers—white, Latinx, African American—shared the metal picnic tables. Day workers with sturdy boots and dirty clothes stopped by to pick up bags of tacos to go.
As my girlfriend and I scarfed our chicken tacos—
always chicken, even though the menu also includes beef and lengua and chorizo—I imagined families seated at the kitchen table or in front of the television doing the same thing.
There is something reassuring about tacos. Because they’re cheap ($3 apiece at El Tako Nako), you feel virtuously frugal. The ones we ordered—served simply with caramelized onions, freshly chopped onions, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime—were consistently good, a welcome break from grazing out of our refrigerator at home. The setting at the laundromat, with people of all ages and various ethnicities eating
in the glow of fluorescent light at the edge of the asphalt parking lot, felt just right.
In Gordonsville, we experienced the romance of life in the country. In the city, we found a more grounded and social kind of romanticism. Ultimately, we gravitated to the latter, leaving our rural nest and moving into a house near West Main Street. We have our own washer/dryer now, so those date nights at
the laundromat are a thing of the past. But every now and then, we’ll remember our ritual and inevitably say, “Wasn’t that great?”
El Tako Nako, 2405 Hydraulic Rd., 305-8918, bit.ly/2ooRykj