Thursday, October 13, 2011

Nature Calls

I should have realized something was amiss by the sneering half glance the woman gave me when I came through the door. Her snicker followed me as I headed back to the ‘corner of doom’. I felt my pulse quicken.

At a tiny gas station in east Texas we stopped for coffee and . . . the bathroom. Strikes fear into your heart just thinking about it, doesn’t it? I should have listened to my inner coward.

The vacant ladies room door swayed ominously in the breeze, creaking a warning to “beware.” Cautiously I entered the darkened hovel and peered into the . . . fragrant . . . abyss.

Oh, Lord, I thought, so this is what a weapon of mass destruction looks like.

With my elbow I flipped on the light switch and a turbo charged engine roared to life in the tiny room. It was the hand dryer on the wall. Defensively, I smacked the wall and flipped the light off. The blower noise stopped. I rubbed my throbbing ears. Weird. Maybe it was just a short in the circuitry. I flipped the switch back on and was rewarded by 100 decibels of deafening machinery. I shut the light off again, stood with legs crossed in the silent darkness and considered my options. I could pee in the blackness or drive a hundred miles to the next dump on Interstate 10. I chose option three: recite ten Hail Mary’s and take my chances with the dying dryer. I closed the door and turned the lock with my knuckles.

“Well,” I thought as I sat down, “at least no one will try to walk in on me with the sound of that racket.” I hurried anyway. I glanced around the room, thinking my mother was right: you can get disfiguring diseases from a public restroom. Who knows when the Health Department stopped in last—they’re probably afraid to come here, too. Flushing the handle with a piece of toilet paper, I vowed not to have any more water or Coke for the rest of the trip. It’s dangerous to drink and drive, anyway.

It leads to bathroom stops.

I turned on the faucet, pumped out some soap and lathered up like a surgeon. Rinsing the suds off, I ignored the running faucet—I wasn’t about to touch that thing now—and put my dripping hands under the dryer which had stopped blowing after I sat down. Hmm, so it comes on with the light switch and shuts off at the toilet. Now it wouldn’t come on at all. I moved my magic hands around it with wizard-like flourishes, hoping for a motion sensor. Nothing. I turned the light switch off and back on. Still nothing. My pants were buttoned and I was decent, so I opened the door, and the jet engine sprang to life. Figures.

Hands finally dry, I grabbed another wad of toilet paper and turned off the faucet, shut the light off with my other elbow, and headed outside to the safety of my sanitary truck.

“Have a nice da-a-ay,” the cashier said with a smirk.

Smart aleck. She knew I’d need antibiotics soon.

I broke my temperance vow as soon as I got back in the truck. What can I say? I’m a sucker for iced coffee. And, true to form, thirty miles later I was begging God again for any little port-a-potty on the side of the road. Talk about a short memory. There’d been a sign four miles outside town advertising Dauna’s Grocery Store, and my eyes lit up until my husband said, “She can’t even spell ‘Donna’—what makes you think she can keep the bathroom clean?”

I knew he was right. I couldn’t risk it. We stopped instead at the town’s token gas station where it wasn’t hard to find the facilities. The door had a huge “Hunters Welcome” sign on it, with another sign reading “Unisex Restroom” above that.

Awesome. I could hardly wait.

I should have waited. It covered all the bases worthy of being named ‘unisex’. A baby changing table on one wall, a urinal next to the unisex commode, and toilet paper dangling down to the dirty floor which was covered with—oh, you don’t want to know—next to the sink with the chipped concrete counter. A fly paraded on the toilet seat—two eyes focused on the dirty spray bottle of disinfectant on the tank’s lid whilethe other three watched me.

I covered every possible surface with the abundant toilet paper and thanked God for small favors. Then, holding the handle with a wad of Charmin, I flushed the toilet, skipped the gummed up soap dispenser and the crusty faucet handles, and unlocked the door with more toilet paper. I pulled open the door handle with a final piece of toilet paper, making a mental note to advise the cashier that they were now out of toilet paper. I figured he wouldn’t care much--he was a man. I headed straight to the truck for a bottle of Purell in the glove box.

God bless whoever invented that stuff.

A quarter of the mile down the road we passed Dauna’s cute, tidy little grocery store, and I glared at my husband who hadn’t needed to use the Hunter’s Haven of Horror.

“Look at that!” I exclaimed to Rob. “It’s a big country store with fresh jams and fruit. And the sign says Clean Restrooms!” Then I gave him . . . the look.

“So did the last one,” he said dryly. “A great big one on the front window.”

“What?!!” I rolled down the window and let out the fly who’d followed me out to the car. “Get out, you hitchhiker!” I yelled at it, and quickly rolled the window back up. It was Rob who snickered this time.

“You know,” I began, ignoring his dubious sense of humor while I bathed in hand sanitizer, “you and I could write a book warning people about all the crummy places where they should never stop when nature calls. I bet it’d be a best seller and we’d make enough money to retire.”

“Yeah!” he exclaimed, excited about the possibility of retiring on dirty money. “And we could call it “The Don’t Make The List Book.”

I think we might do it. It’s my gift to all the weary women travelers on America’s highways. And if it doesn’t work—if they won’t buy my book and save themselves while there’s still time—I’m gonna put up a roadside stand and sell toilet paper and Purell instead.

'Cuz, trust me. They're gonna need it.


  1. My parents were full-time RV'ers for 5 years. They only stopped at McDonald's. For Christmas, birthdays, and Mother's Day we bought MacDonald's gift certificates. Apparently they are required to clean their restrooms on a rigid schedule or they can lose their franchise. My mother swears by them. I still trust in Purell. Public restrooms of any kind give me the heebie jeebies. But sometimes, like when they are pumping you full of caffeine at your favorite Mexican restaurant, they are a necessity.

  2. There just isn't enough Purell in the world for some restrooms!