They say “better is the enemy of the good.” Better can be the enemy of the terrible too, as in the case of the high-tech, public bathrooms we see at gas stations and convenience stores these days. Is it necessary to have a high-tech experience during one of our most primitive and basic human functions? No!!
I’m not sure if this is solely an American problem or not- but please enjoy my rant either way.
Wawa, QuickTrip, Royal Farms… Places like this are a total upgrade over the old-time gas stations of my childhood. Remember how you had to go into the sketchy, filthy, little store to pay for the gas? It felt risky to buy any of the snacks in there. And if you had to go to the bathroom?! Oh man… You had to ask for the bathroom key, which was always attached to some big piece of wood or plastic. It was very hard not to notice someone who was carrying the bathroom key. It was like yelling, “Hey! I have to the pee!” just like a kindergartner in the middle of story time.
You’d take the key and walk around to the back of the building, wondering how many people had been murdered back there, and if you would be next. When you came to the nondescript, bathroom door, the key never quite fit and needed some maneuvering. That alone was no big deal, but once inside, it did make locking the door seem even riskier. The place smelled really bad, hadn’t been cleaned in too long, and honestly made you wonder if pissing yourself (or worse) was a better option. Afterwards, when the door did unlock, you felt a mix of relief, gratitude and nausea.
Thankfully, those nasty bathrooms have mostly disappeared, replaced by glorious, clean, “big-chain” operations with everything a traveler could want. At first, this massive, gas station bathroom upgrade was a totally fantastic idea. I actually wanted to buy gas at these places with their nice, clean “pay at the pump while you listen to music” approach. Some places even show little videos while you fill the tank! The food is amazing too. Not only is the whole store clean and nice, they actually make food right there, like a restaurant! And it’s really good!
This high-quality, modern day, gas station/restaurant blend is almost enough to restore one’s faith in humanity, until you hit the bathroom. That’s where we go overboard.
Are these new bathrooms nice? Yes. They’re very nice. Too nice. I appreciate the spaciousness and cleanliness, but tell me if this experience sounds familiar.
You walk in, head right into a stall and close the door. As you turn around to prepare yourself, the toilet flushes. Not only is that unnecessary, it’s so loud that it almost literally scares the crap out of you.
As you finish up, and reach for some of the worst toilet paper money can buy (apparently for use in public bathrooms only), the toilet flushes again. The blast is powerful, causing water to splash all over your cheeks (not the ones on your face). You reach for more of the useless toilet paper.
By now you figured out that this toilet doesn’t take commands from you. It doesn’t even have a handle. It flushes when it damn well pleases, which translates to five more blasts as you accidentally activate the sensor while reassembling yourself.
When you get to the sink to wash your hands, it too has no handles. The automatic soap dispenser works, but when you put your hands under the faucet- nothing. Move your hands around a bit- still nothing. You curse and slap the thing with an open-handed uppercut. Still no water.
Minutes ago, the toilet over-flushed enough to waste a small pond, and across the room, the sink is the new Sahara!
Eventually, you hit the sweet spot and a gentle shower of water caresses your hands for a second, before stopping abruptly and leaving at least half the soap still on you. So you start the whole process again. Like Oliver Twist- “please Faucet, could I have a little more?”
Eventually, it’s time for hand drying.
As an environmentally conscious person, you choose the air dryer over paper towels (which you suspect are about as thin as the toilet paper anyway). With your hands in position, the tornado strikes! The skin on your hands get pushed across your bones like a wimpy kid being bullied on the playground. The jet engine inside the dryer is even louder than the toilet! Your phone buzzes in your back pocket, and you wonder if it’s a weather emergency alert caused by the hand dryer.
The air blast lasts way longer than needed. Long enough that the toilet is confusing it’s next customer by flushing uncontrollably, on top of the still deafening roar of the hand dryer. To complete the circus, there’s somebody new fighting the faucet.
Does it have to be like this? Can’t we just fix a bad situation instead of improving it to the point where it needs fixing again? Can’t we find a happy medium between the filthy, backroom, murder-scene bathrooms of old and the new, tech-on-steroids, Cadillac bathrooms of today?
Until we can, I’m keeping a roll of toilet paper in my car.
Visit Wise & Shine for more stories from Todd & the staff. You can follow Todd’s music activities at toddfulginiti.com and listen to his new album, Jazz On King, wherever you stream music, or on YouTube .