What do my son’s elementary school and our local Costco have in common? They both recently installed automated restrooms.
Gone are the days of catching the plague by handling toilet flushers, sink faucets and paper towel dispensers. Now you can stroll into the public restroom and never touch a thing besides your tender behind.
It feels a lot like zooming into an episode of The Jetsons. You do your business, stand up, and the toilet flushes your remnants to oblivion. Just hold your hands under the faucet, and water magically streams over your soiled fingers. Some bathrooms are even equipped with dispensers that automatically release luxurious foamy soap. Then you just wave your freshly washed hands in front of the powerful dryer and voilà – you’re a vision of sanitary loveliness.
At least that’s the way it’s supposed to work.
I’m all for automation making my life easier. I never want to go back to driving a stick shift or telling time by sundial, and if my husband had to trim our lawn with a push mower, the grass would be so tall you wouldn’t see our house.
Unfortunately, automation is not an exact science, so sometimes its usefulness backfires.
Take the afore-mentioned automated restroom. Technology has not yet perfected the automatic toilet seat cover, so I have upload that myself. It’s probably a good thing, because it could automatically dispense hole-less sheets of paper, leaving me sitting in a pool of my own excrement. I can see immediate recalls of that product.
So I have to apply my own layer of protection, which is pretty silly since that protection lies in a sheet of tissue paper less than a millimeter thick. One drop of any previous customer’s bodily fluids on the toilet seat will instantaneously be absorbed into the paper and transferred to my own buttocks. Not much protection there.
Next I take a one-minute break from my very very busy life to sit down and have a peaceful poop. This is the time in the day that I’ll tie my shoes. Rather than waste five seconds by stopping pedestrian traffic stooping over to fasten my laces, I’ll sometimes wait an hour until the time I know I’ll be sitting down to use the toilet. This is multitasking at the most insane level. And I pride myself on it. Sick, right?
However, the brain of my automated toilet senses that by leaning over to tie my shoe, I’m done going number 1 and number 2 and it will automatically flush. My butt is still glued to the sticky seat, and suddenly I’m getting an unwanted bidet of toilet water (not the fragrant kind) intermixed with my urine and feces spraying up my butt and back. And like the flame facing a firefighter’s powerful hose, I am drenched.
After using an entire roll of toilet paper to clean myself, I step to the automated faucets and hold my hands in front of the sensor. Usually one of two things happens. Either the faucet runs. And runs. And runs. And I feel guilty for contributing to the water shortage in Southern California. Or nothing happens. I hold my hands still. I wave my hands wildly. I curse the damn faucet and move on to the next one hoping that it, like its evil twin, does not think I’m invisible. I get enough of that from my kids.
Personally, I love the automatic foamy soap dispenser, but they’re hard to find. Public restrooms have come a long way from the days of doling out gritty Ajax-like soap that makes you feel like you’re massaging sandpaper into you palms. Most of the time you still have to pump your own soap – a task that seems to be too time-consuming for most kids.
Finally I move on to the last step – the automated hand dryer. There are frequently signs posted on these devises, proudly stating that they’ve been installed for your benefit (the restroom consumer, the one who gives away your product for free) so that you will not be contributing to the world’s overflowing landfills. Instead, the dryers are run on electricity, which in turn is generated by dirty coal, so you choose your poison.
The dryers are also governed by sensors, and you have to perform yet another mime act of waving your hands in front of it to make it work. It too has the misfortune of either playing dead or running long enough to blow dry a sopping Australian shepherd. The other problem: the loud noise scares the bejesus out of small children (coincidentally, always the noisiest ones). However, with the sounds of inadvertently flushing toilets, endlessly running sinks, thunderous blow dryers and screaming toddlers, the cacophony scares away those people gabbing on their cell phones as if they’re in their own private powder room.
As far as I know, restroom automation has not extended itself to automatic doors, although I would love to see that invention – particularly in busy restrooms like the mall or McDonald’s. I really hate touching a restroom doorknob and wondering if it’s wet because the previous supplier washed her hands, or because she didn’t wash her hands.
I hope I live to see the day when public restroom automation includes wiping my butt. Unfortunately, this invention would probably suffer the same flaws as the faucet and the hand dryer – wiping too much or not at all. On the other hand, some people might like the “wipe too much” bug and return to their favorite restroom over and over, whether or not they have the urge to go.
That’s maybe something you’d like to add to the suggestion box at your local Costco.