Toilets and Traveling

For many years my husband and I made an Annual Pilgrimage to Tennessee and the In-Laws. Now, we do try to blast through the Long Drive, but seeing as both the husband and I are aging and no longer have the 12-hour bladder of youth after a number of years we adopted the "pee early and often" approach to urination comfort on these trips. Sort of like voting in Chicago, but with less corruption and bribery.

So we get to see a LOT of toilets.

Through Indiana the rest stop toilets tend to be on the old and worn side but they are also usually scrubbed amazingly clean - especially early in the day. You start to think the linoleum is worn not from feet but from rubbing with cleaning tools. You can smell the disinfectant. About the only time it gets objectionable is when you have someone wrestling with the Baby Diaper From Hell Smell or a crew of toddlers who, being toddlers, frequently have less than stellar hygiene.

I will note (because it threw me the first time I encountered it) that these toilets typically flush when you push the silvery button on the wall. Don't be embarrassed if you first spend a minute or two looking for the handle - happens all the time. It's the button on the wall. Push to flush.

Road Pilots usually have not only clean bathrooms but ones that could probably survive tornadoes or serve as fallout shelters. The walls of the stalls are solid cinderblock, the doors a half inch thick slab of wood, and the locks are serious. I think they bought them from Bank Vault Surplus or something. You don't just feel relieved you feel safe in your private Fortress of Solitude. Check the seat for previous occupation by a "hoverchick" with bad aim, but otherwise they're decent. Road Pilot ladies' rooms also feature a scale for weight and fortune, and a vending machine with a selection of not just the standard feminine hygiene products but also condoms and lube. I've never seen that in any other ladies' rest room.

Oh - about hoverchicks. Hoverchicks are women who, for one reason or another, refuse to sit on the seat provided. Often there is a concern about germs, who may have sat there before, cleanliness, and so forth. In my experience, most public restrooms are cleaned more often than the toilets in homes, and most either provide "ass gaskets" - paper seat protectors to shield one's delicate butt - or sufficient toilet paper and/or paper towels allowing one to improvise an ass gasket. In short, it's a ridiculous, overblown fear. Worse, yet, the hoverchick "solution" is the one most likely to result in nasty stuff getting on the seat! In other words, hoverchicks most fear that another hoverchick has used the stall and pissed on the seat. Note, this does NOT apply to hoverchicks who can actually get all their bodily waste into the toilet without getting it anywhere else. If they're that adept you'll never know they were there, it's the sloppy hoverchicks that are the problem and what I refer to when I use the term.

I've found the other "truck stop" type places are usually acceptable as well - Love's, non-branded stops, etc.

Now, the BP's (formerly Amoco) have been advertising upgrades to their stops. Well, yes, they do seem brighter. Cleanliness is not noticeably improved in my eyes, though. Perhaps the new blazing white-hot lights make residual grit more visible, but at least it doesn't look worse. What I do find annoying is the installation of autoflush toilets.

These are not confined merely to BP's, of course. You see them everywhere these days. Now, it's quirky and old-fashioned of me, I'm sure, but I like to control the flushing action. Sure, the handle is less than sanitary, but you wash your hands after you flush, yes? I've known folks who've used the "kick-flush" approach, too - but then you have possible contamination of your shoes, which you then track into your car. I mean, when was the last time you washed your shoes after taking a crap? Not to mention the looks you'd get at the sink. Hey, that's why they provide soap and water. No, no - the soap and water is for your hands, not…. Oh, nevermind, here's some paper towels for those shoes…

Now, where was I?

Objections to autoflushers include the fact that the technology is not entirely mature - they don't always flush when they should, or refrain from flushing when they shouldn't. So you go to sit down, it flushes before you finish taking a seat, then after you're done you have to dance around, waving your hands in front of the electric eye sensor trying to get it to flush again. Always a bad sign to walk into a rest room and see folks doing the Autoflush Dance up and down the stalls. THEN there are the ones that flush midway through the main event. Maybe not all bad - the startle factor alone has cured at least one case of constipation. Startle the stall occupant enough, however, and she may launch from the seat and into the door in front of her. Not only is that embarrassing, but flushing no longer takes care of the mess. A conscientious person will, of course, wipe up any resulting mess, but judging from some truly nasty messes left behind for the next person (me) entering the little room some folks just simply flee into the night or else are so rattled by the continual flushing that occurs when one is trying to swab the seat that they give up and make their furtive get away. This sort of defeats the purpose of autoflush - to automatically dispose of wastes. USUALLY it works, but the failures can be spectacular.

(One day I will have to speak of the intersection of autoflush toilets with people from foreign cultures that obviously don't have autoflush toilets that occurs at O'Hare International Airport. Talk about spectacular failures….)

Then there are the Ominous Count Down Autoflushers. It's like they were designed by a former member of a bomb squad, or perhaps a former member of a terrorist organization. You sit. You do your business. You wipe. You stand up, sorting out your clothes (this is even more fun in winter with multiple layers). CLICK! (faint sounds of machinery).... tick...tick...tick... FLUSH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I mean, really - you expect the darn thing to explode or something. Such Ominous Count Down Autoflushers can be spotted prior to detona-- er, flushing from the frantic sounds of folks trying to get zippers zipped or skirts down quickly - it's like there's a time limit or something. LEAVE THIS STALL OR BE FLUSHED! Not entirely rational, no, but then logic is not at the forefront when my jeans are around my ankles. You feel vulnerable, you know? Downright jumpy if things are not what you're accustomed to.

Anyhow, is it just me, or do autoflushers flush more violently than manual flushers? Huge roaring Niagras of water pouring through the porcelain, with spray that would daunt even the Maid of the Mist tour boats. Don't know if that wet streak down my back is me sweating out the Ominous Count Down Autoflusher timer or spray from the flush.

No, I don't like autoflushers.

Not that they're the worst. The nastiest bathroom award goes to a Burger King in Kentucky off I-75 with Mystery Toilets.

I knew something was wrong upon entry because two of three stalls were... um... Bathroom Disasters. This also decided me against eating there - don't eat in restaurants where the toilets are filthy. Just general principles. The toilets are a place they let you see - if they're nasty imagine what the places you don't see might look like. Anyhoo - it was nasty. Just nasty. Piles of stuff. Wetness. I picked out the cleanest one and - this is a sign of just how nasty the place was, and how much I needed to pee - I actually DID do a hoverchick pee. I don't like to hover-pee - I mean, I'm a girl, I've got a wide-spray shotgun, not a precision sniper rifle. Even so, I'm pretty sure I didn't add to the general... um... er... I got it all in the toilet, OK?

That's when I realized there was no flush handle on the tank.

There was no alternative button-on-the-wall flush device.

I did the Autoflush Dance. No result.

Well, how the bathroom got into this state was becoming clear - how in the hell did a person flush this toilet???

I looked for a handle again. No handle

I looked for wall-mounted alternatives. No buttons or levers.

I did the Autoflush Dance again. An Autoflush Dance worthy of Isadora Duncan. Or, for you young'uns, worthy of Michael Jackson. Still no result.

That's about when I noticed this little ornamental knobby thing on the top of the water tank.

Yep, push to flush.

You know those geysers at Yellowstone? Yeah, like that. Maybe the state of the bathroom wasn't due to folks neglecting to flush - with toilet like that, it could have been the flushing that did it.

OK, bathroom designers, here's a tip - DO NOT make the flush mechanism so artsy fartsy that people can't find it. Or provide written instructions (flash to scene from 2001 with anxious person frantically reading the "zero-g toilet" instructions)

Now, while that was the nastiest toilet, it wasn't the most bizarre. No.

On north-bound I-65 in the Endless Limbo of Corn that is Indiana between Louisville and Indianapolis there is a non-branded small-town truck stop with... strange toilets. How strange?

Well, I trundled into the place, located the door with the "woman" icon on the door, walked in, then turned around and walked out, muttering "excuse me" because I thought I had made a mistake and walked into the men's room. No, no urinals - just VERY strange architecture.

You see, it is traditional - VERY traditional - for the stall walls in women's bathrooms to rise at least six feet. You know, well above the head of the average woman to provide some privacy. These... these were about three feet high. Made out of cinderblocks. They looked like animal pens for short goats or something. Then there were the doors. They were swinging doors, like you'd see in a western bar in a Hollywood cowboy movie - you know, two pieces on swinging hinges. BUT - this is so weird - while they'd cover the torso area of a seated woman they wouldn't cover one's exposed-while-peeing snatch. Imagine a row of eyes peering over these swinging doors, with exposed snatches and pants-around-the-ankles visible below. Fortunately, I only had to imagine it, not actually see it - there was only one other person in there, and mercifully her stall did not face the door.

To top it off - they were Autoflushers. Ominmus Count Down Autoflushers. And they had minds of their own. Or something. The room was filled with a chorus of CLICK! (faint sounds of machinery).... tick...tick...tick... FLUSH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! firing off in random bursts, without benefit of Autoflush Dancing or any other visible trigger.

I will say one thing - the place WAS spotless (if a little damp from spray). Maybe because most folks were too scared to use the place. I sure was. Put MY tender buttocks down, at the mercy of such automated machinery? I think NOT! After hurried negotiations with the bladder I exited, having entered no more than one step into the place. (One thing about doing the "pee often and early" routine - if one place is a disaster or out of the Twilight Zone you can almost always make it to an alternative with crossed-leg agony).

The next stop had normal, manual flush toilets. And was both clean AND dry.

© 2004

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