We've all been there, half asleep, stretched out across two broken chairs, listening to the monotonous drone of clothes tumbling in a dryer.

Regardless of the town, the neighborhood or the time of day, laundromats have a universal feel and smell.

Flickering fluorescent lights. The scent of floral dryer sheets, spent and discarded on the floor.

There is the hum and slosh of washing machines. The sound of quarters dropping into slots. The thud of water-soaked jeans methodically tumbling in dryers, metal buttons clanging against the side.

In college we took our books to these coin-operated study halls. As young adults we met pretty girls while they folded lingerie.

Now, if you're in a laundromat, there's a reason. They are great equalizers. People who've been thrown out. People who are down and out. People on the way up. People on the way down.

Either way, you'd rather be somewhere else.

Anywhere else.

Text messaging

Washing clothes is a necessary, time-consuming drudgery in today's computerized world. You'd think, in fact, somebody would have come up with a better way by now.

Well, if you're a student at the College of Charleston, somebody did.

At the new Liberty Street dormitory, where more than 400 students reside, there are 30 washers and dryers to serve the population.

But walking through the laundry rooms with John Campbell, director of Residence Life and Housing, there's something noticeably missing. Students.

The machines are running, the dryers are humming, but there's nobody sitting around, smoking cigarettes, reading magazines. That's because the college has gone high-tech.

Laura Van Curen is a 19-year-old freshman from Pennsylvania. From her laptop, in her dorm room, she can check the status of all the machines in her building. Which ones are in use. Which ones are empty. No running up and down stairs to check on availability.

And when she puts her clothes in one of the machines, she doesn't have to sit and wait. She plugs a code number into her cell phone and gets a text message when her laundry is done. "Our generation relies on technology," she said sweetly. "This way you don't waste so much time doing laundry."

Or money, it seems. For College of Charleston students, it's all free.

'$30 and two hours'

Such is life for college kids these days.

But a few miles away, at the Johns Island Coin Laundry, 19-year-old Lakia Hudson is running four big washing machines at once. She holds two rolls of quarters in one hand, some fabric softener in the other.

She and her grandmother live nearby in Sea Island Rural Housing. She comes to the laundromat every week or so.

"It takes about $30 and two hours to do laundry for me and my grandmother," she said, juggling big bottles of liquid detergent and bleach. "It's not so bad, but sometimes the machines take your money."

A sign on the wall says it all: No smoking, soliciting, loitering, weapons, profanity, drugs or alcohol. Nearby, a TV blares out a soap opera nobody is watching.

"I don't come here at night," she said, feeding more coins into a dryer. "It's not that safe."

Hudson and Van Curen are both 19 years old. Both live in Charleston. But when it comes to laundry, they live in totally different worlds.