Public Restrooms, The Downside of Travel

As I hurried along the line looking for an empty stall, a young girl wailed, “No, Mommy, no! I don’t want to go in. It’s yucky!” I glanced into the stall in question and wailed with her. The only thing worse than using public restrooms is their absence when needed. So I use them, but they test my mettle.

I can’t be sure a stall is empty without bending my six-foot frame to look for feet. I used to nudge a closed door to test for occupancy; but too often the occupant hadn’t engaged the lock, and the door swung open to the dismay of both parties. So I bend double and peer.

When I find a vacancy, I often find a missing purse hook and a broken lock as well, which strains my limited flexibility. And when did flushing turn into an IQ test? Too often, I find myself in a game of “Where’s Waldo” as I search for the hiding place of the little black button.

Washing my hands in public restrooms can also be traumatic. When everything I need for the task is supplied and functioning, I’m so surprised I sometimes forget where I am and —as taught in first grade — belt out two renditions of “Happy Birthday” while I lather. People look at me. Once a lady at the next basin sang along like it was a party.

In general, I find airport restrooms clean, well supplied and efficient, though Chicago’s O’Hare has toilets with automated seat liners resembling plastic wrap that trouble me. You press a button and watch the old wrap roll away and new wrap roll in — just for you. Somehow it seems vaguely unsanitary. How do I know the wrap is new and not recycled?

Restrooms encountered when traveling by car sometimes give me nightmarish flashbacks — except in Missouri where I look forward to a particular rest area on the interstate. Open, curving halls without doors lead to a clean, well-maintained facility. But the best part is washing my hands.

I insert my hands into a semi-circular opening in the wall. Then comfortably warm water sprinkles them generously, followed by drops of sweet-smelling soap. After an interval just right for singing “Happy Birthday” twice, more rain-like water descends. Finally, a gentle stream of warm air wafts over my hands until they’re dry.

I’ve touched nothing.

I’d like to end with this miracle in Missouri, but I must air a final complaint: why don’t the architects of public buildings build more capacity into women’s restrooms?

In 1st grade, fun-loving Ronny Huff pulled me into the boys’ bathroom. Before I broke his grip and fled, I caught a glimpse of my male classmates gathered about a urinal, which intrigued me more than anything had all day. At the time, I didn’t realize urinals give men an advantage when restrooms are crowded.

A friend and I bought season tickets for the Reno Opera. While I don’t remember much about the operas, I remember men sauntering into their restroom without waiting in line. I also remember elegantly gowned, carefully coiffed women standing in line in the main hallway of the Opera House, on display to the crowd, as the lights blinked to end intermission.

This experience didn’t ruin opera for me; my preference for Simon and Garfunkle did. But it made me realize women’s restrooms should be designed by women rather than by men who are used to communal toileting.

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60 thoughts on “Public Restrooms, The Downside of Travel

    • I agree about the restrooms at Walmart and Starbuck’s and would add that most, but not all, McDonald’s have acceptable restroom as well. In my small town, the public library has a great restroom and no eyebrows are raised if you dash in and out without touching a book. Thank you for finding my blog, Patrick, and for commenting. I’ll visit your blog soon soon.

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    • They must not get complaints, because the plastic wrap has been there for years. Like you, I visualize the same wrap spinning around and around since 1990. I did finish your thought, Gail, but decided not to print it.

      Liked by 2 people

    • You are so right, Maggie. I can see no reason, other than laziness or rudeness, why someone wouldn’t flush — especially when I have no option but to use the stall, flush the toilet, and it functions perfectly.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Like Maggie, I wonder about flushing when it’s not so much an I.Q. test as it is an “optional” test. When does flushing become optional, especially after contemplating the meaning of life? I’m sorry, I don’t want to see your contemplation. Please don’t pee on the seat, flush when you’re done and wash your hands. It’s quite simple and easy to do!

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    • Mary, I am as unhappy as you and Maggie by those who can’t be bothered to flush and/or observe the other courtesies that make public bathrooms welcoming to everyone — behaviors they should have learned as toddlers and had reinforced in first grade as I did. Sheesh!

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    • Don’t you hate it when your skirt or slacks are your only option and you can’t escape without turning a doorknob? Yikes! Thanks for finding my blog and leaving a comment. I’ll visit you soon.

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    • I have discovered that after flicking the water off my hands, running them lightly through my hair finishes the job nicely. I keep kleenex handy for door handles, discarding it when done, and hand sanitizer as well, in case I decide to eat something my hands might touch while I am out and about.

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      • Maggie, using one’s built-in hair dryer is a brilliant idea. I’m going to try it. I already use the kleenex in purse idea as well as carrying hand sanitizer. I began carrying it after a friend told me the most unsanitary thing in a restaurant is usually the menus because they are never cleaned and everybody handles them. So once my order is taken, I dig out the hand sanitizer.

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  2. What can I say, Janet? This is when, in most cases, it’s good to be a guy. Unless you consider the fact that we have to wait, but I don’t sense much sympathy coming my way on that one. I do share the issue with hand washing. In many men’s rooms, you have that sense of “up until now, I’ve only touched myself.” And you give a quick look to see how much worse it will be after you touch the rest of the things in the room. Of course, if you have to use the stall, you’re in for some trouble. I’ll leave it st that.

    Great post!

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    • I’m assuming you mean you poor guys have to wait for the females who are lucky enough to share your company. If so, Dan, you are right: not an iota of sympathy is headed your way. In college, I had a job cleaning the band room and its restrooms (I really wanted to go to college!). If the men’s room there was any indication, I agree you’re in trouble if you have to enter a stall.

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  3. Thanks for the post, Janet. Here in Oz., we can rely on McDonald’s for clean toilets. Flushing is not so much of a problem, but now we have a variety of designs of no touch taps, turned on by waving your hands in front of a sensor. Problem is, some of them turn off automatically on a timer, others rely on a swipe of the hands to turn them off. And if they are out of order, you just swipe and swipe looking like some weird orchestral conductor.

    Cate Blanchett was director of the Sydney Theatre Company , when a new theatre was being built. Guess what. Lots of female toilets!

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    • Here, too, McDonald’s usually has clean restrooms, Sally, and I share your frustration with sensors that don’t sense. I, too have found myself “looking like some weird orchestral conductor.” I love the Cate Blanchett story. It’s always good to hear from you, Sally.

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    • I had some similar experiences, Diane, but I will say this for the stalls I encountered in many European restrooms: The doors to the stalls were full-sized and tightly fitted so there was complete privacy, unlike most restrooms in the U.S.

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  4. Oh, but this post brings back memories—of the restrooms along route 66 in the l950s. Our family would go on car trips, and I hated them, partially because of my dysfunctional family and partially because of the gross gas station bathrooms. Used by both sexes, most of them were filthy. The mechanics didn’t care, and they were sadly neglected. Ugh! my lips are curling even now.

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    • Your comment brought back memories for me, Laurel. I wrote the post from the perspective of an adult and could write another about gas station restrooms from my childhood and youth. Oh my. I think I had repressed those memories!

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  5. What a fun post! And here I thought I was the only one who was troubled by those plastic wrap-around liners at O’Hare.

    I agree with everything you said, well, except for the part about bending my frame to check for stall vacancy. At 5 feet (and a fraction of an inch) I can almost see right under the stall without bending at all!

    I have to report that all the restrooms and outhouses in Great Basin National Park were immaculate. There’s a good reason for a return visit!

    Thanks for the Saturday evening laughs, Janet.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’re welcome, Rita, and thank you for mentioning yet another wonderful thing about The Great Basin National Park in Nevada, Immaculate restroom and outhouses in hiking areas are, indeed, rare and to be lauded. It pleases me when I know I’ve made you laugh.

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  6. I, too, wonder why flushing has to be a complex puzzle. I once did not flush a toilet because I could not find the button and there was no one to ask in the loo. Fortunately, I have never had to leave without washing my hands because there has always been someone to ask. Some taps are also tricky to figure out!

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    • I’m glad to hear someone else has trouble locating the hiding place of the little black button. I also agree it’s nice to have someone to ask about the trick to turning on the faucets, and it’s even better when they volunteer the information!

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  7. I whole-heartedly agree!
    I don’t use public loos unless I’m plaiting my legs. (plaiting – braiding). And I don’t ever sit on the seat. I hover over it, like I was taught to do when I was a little girl.
    My Mum and Grandma taught me not to sit on public loo seats “because of the germs” – and that was enough to drum this ‘hover’ right into the very core of me and I still fear the germs even now. [sigh]

    And … it doesn’t stop there either. When it’s time to ‘push the button’ – I don’t touch the button until I’ve pulled a little loo roll, wrapped it carefully around my two fingers and THEN and only then, pushed the button. Then I quickly open the door using the same two fingers and then half turn and drop the paper into the loo.

    Things learned in childhood stick with us, don’t they?!! lol
    Loved this Aunt Beulah. I giggled and giggled some more as I read it.
    Sending huge hugs ~ Cobs. x

    Liked by 1 person

  8. In the ‘olden days’ we paid 1 penny to enter the stalls that were immaculate. Seems the pennies paid the lady with the mop and bucket to flush, brush and deodorise
    when necessary. It gave her a job as well as my mother and I somewhere to take a break in the Ladies restroom area furnished with comfy sofas and arm chairs, a small kids library and a well-shocked you box. For 5 pence we got a cuppa and homemade cookie too.

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  9. Love it! As a youngster, fresh out of college, my friend and I traveled around Europe…inevitably, I got stuck in a bathroom trying to figure out how the heck you flushed the darn thing!!! And if the light (with the switch on the OUTSIDE of the stall) didn’t leave me standing in the dark with my pants around my legs, I was a happy camper!!! Great piece, J! (((Hugs))) Lucie

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, yes, I forgot the hunt for the light switch that occurs before the hunt for the flusher. I love the image of you in Europe with your pants around your ankles searching in the dark for the flush trigger. It’s not a picture I’ll soon forget!

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  10. I recently took a one day temple tour in Kyoto and the guide insisted that we all visit and use the freeway toilet (yes Mum). She also insisted that we press all of the function buttons. For flushing, bidet washing, drying and music and the seats were heated. There were flowers at the basins and even the walls were an attractive laminate. All this luxury in a roadside stop and better than a five star hotel. Ah there’s nothing more important than a good dunnie.

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  11. “Once a lady at the next basin sang along like it was a party.”–That is hilarious. No joke about the airport bathroom plastic covers. Who’s to say it doesn’t just go around in a circle? Wow. That place in MO sounds amazing. And yes, public places need to make far more stalls for women. How has this not been fixed yet?

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    • She wasn’t singing aloud as I absentmindedly was, but she hummed along in a spritely manner. I’m glad she made you laugh. Perhaps the need for more stalls in women’s restrooms has not been addressed because we are too polite to air our complaints about toileting issues to the powers, mostly masculine, that be.

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