Monday, June 23, 2008

Going Well

Today’s post, while not discussing life-changing issues, deals with an ever-increasing invasion of technology in that most vital of places – public bathrooms.

In order to save water, paper and energy, as well as prevent potential vandalism, places like rest stops, stadiums, schools and colleges, large office buildings and other facilities have been installing automation to control toilets, sinks and towel dispensers.

People used to automatically flushing toilets at work often forget to flush at facilities where the old manual standard prevails. That can lead to all sorts of mess for the next customer. If they’re used to auto-shutoff faucets, they tend to leave water running. If they’re used to waving their hands in front of an auto-paper dispenser, it can get pretty frustrating if they don’t realize it’s an ancient “pull-the-handle” variety.

Sometimes the degree of automation varies within the same bathroom. The toilets flush automatically, but the sinks or towel dispensers (or both) are still manual. Or two of the vital components are automatic while the third is manual. It’s enough work concentrating on the business at hand (or in hand as the case may sometimes be) to be worried about what’s automatic and when you’re going it alone.

Even when a restroom is fully-automatic, that’s no guarantee it’s problem free. The stories I’ve heard of non-flushing auto potties or their evil cousin, the multi-flusher, are downright scary. Some of the sensors entrusted with the vital task of telling the toilet when to flush acquire a mind of their own, delighting in frustrating or startling the users. You can almost hear the thing laughing. And I’ve heard that the next wave of auto-go includes seats that automatically raise and lower or give you a pre-measured amount of toilet paper– who gets to decide how much paperwork’s needed to finish the job? It’s a government plot, for sure.

A reliable female source – who shall remain anonymous – tells me of the time that she was about to commence her ritual when a stall mate had just finished. Not only did her stall mate’s toilet flush, but so did hers – startling her to the point that she catapulted off the seat and immediately peed on the stall floor. The incident left both women shaking – with laughter, to the bewilderment of their male colleagues passing by as they exited the ladies’ room.

I suppose bathroom technology will evolve to the point that such unhappy circumstances might eventually be solved. (Keep checking Modern Marvels® on the History Channel.) In the meantime, I propose an alert system – call it the Automated Certification and Notification System – or AutoCANS, for short. Each public bathroom door will have a label with an icon for the each of the Big Three – toilet, sink and towel dispenser – and a letter “A” or “M” beneath each. That way you can tell whether you get full service, only partial assistance or if it’s do-it-yourself time. On the vital issue of informing the public, it might go a long way.

I guess I’m finished; and now for the clean up. Maybe I wrote this nonsense because it’s Monday –or because I’m in a s****y mood. Whatever.

Bathroom customs vary considerably from country to country. The international traveler’s best guidebook is “Going Abroad” by Eva Newman.

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