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Published:March 24th, 2011 10:51 EST
To Flush or Not to Flush? A Positive Potty Experience

To Flush or Not to Flush? A Positive Potty Experience

By Donna Cavanagh

I believe a special Nobel Prize should go to the guy who invented the automatic flush toilet.  I am serious about this as I have a great deal of experience with public bathrooms. We travel up and down the east coast to visit family all year long. Through the years of this highway travel, I have gagged at many of the women`s bathrooms at the rest stops that dot the American landscape. No matter what state we found ourselves in, the scene was and is always the same. 

The first thing a woman notices when entering a public bathroom is the yellow cone bearing both the English and Spanish translation of the words Caution, "wet floor" that always sits  in the middle of the stall aisle.  Do people who use public bathrooms only speak English and Spanish? What about those women who do not speak either language? Do they get to slip and fall on the germ-filled floor because they don`t understand the words on the cone? 

Those who can read the cone, tiptoe around it as they make their way to the bathroom stalls. Then, they gingerly push in each door in hopes of finding a stall with a clean toilet.  It is like a scene from a horror movie where the stupid college chick starts to go into the room where she just heard all the strange noises even though she does not know what waits for her on the other side. In a public bathroom, we pretty much know what`s waiting for us on the other side of that door. Allow me to say that I don`t understand how in a country which is filled with so many potty-trained adults, there can be so many women who can`t aim into the toilet. I know it`s hard to squat, but really, it`s not that difficult a task. 

Let me get back to the point of this whole thing.  About 10 years ago, I started to notice the arrival of automatic-flush toilets in the public rest stops.  The no-hands flush system looked intriguing, but I was a little unsure of the little red light attached to the toilet. I figured it was a sensor that told the toilet when I was done, but the paranoid person inside of me had to wonder if a camera was attached.  Once I realized that no one was filming my activities (well, maybe with the exception of a perverts at the rest stops on the New Jersey Turnpike), I relaxed.  I really liked that I did not have to touch anything near that toilet.

Then, the automatic bathroom people came up with the automatic sinks.  These were good too, but I never met an automatic sink that acted consistently. Sometimes, I can wave my hands under the sink once and water just flows out. Other times, I could wave my hands, my arms or even a magic wand and no water comes out. The same is true for the automatic soap dispensers and the newest addition to the public bathroom, the automatic towel holder.  There are times when I have so much arm action going on in one bathroom visit that I actually get a full aerobics workout.

I truly appreciate the no-touch technology in the public bathrooms, but I do have one suggestion for rest stops, stores, restaurants or anyone else with the automatic devices. If you have an automatic toilet, have an automatic towel dispenser and an automatic soap dispenser. If you mix and match automatic and manual, you confuse people.

I was having breakfast with my friend. After drinking several cups of coffee, she had to use the ladies room.  Five minutes went by, and she didn`t come back.  At the 10-minute mark, I was going to see if she fell in, but before I got to the bathroom door she emerged  frustrated but alive. It seems she had been stymied by the bathroom fixtures. 

My final word on automatic bathroom fixtures:  We women take a long time as it is in the bathroom. Make our public bathroom treks a little more user-friendly and tell us what is automatic and what is not. Post a sign and tell us if we should flush or not flush, turn on the faucet or do a dance to the bathroom gods to get the freaking towel out of the dispenser! Anyway, a little direction can go a long way to a positive potty experience.