Staff column: Trapped in the least respected room
Rooms in buildings generally don't bother me. Colors, sizes, shapes and even lighting I can usually deal with. That is except when it comes to one room.
Restrooms in many restaurants, gas stations, and other public places always seemed to be designed as an afterthought. By that I mean they are often in inconvenient places in a building, they are often drab and have poor lighting which either makes them look dirtier than they are (or it covers up the dirt). They also seldom have enough ventilation. But the worst aspect of these rooms is they are often way too small.
At certain times of the day and depending where you are and who you are, restrooms are the most important room in a building. Because of this, why they get such little respect from designers and builders is a mystery to me.
Public restrooms are a universal experience; one we all have in some form or another. For women, cleanliness seems to be the most important feature of a restroom. When they come back to a table in a restaurant from one they almost always comment on the sanitation of the water closet.
Men, on the other hand, come back with little to say. They are just glad the room is there.
The other day I had a particularly bad time with one that was so small that a flea would have felt trapped. The room was one of those three by three water closets that held a toilet, sink and of course being located at a fancy restaurant it had to have some kind of antique dresser thing in it with fresh flowers in a vase full of water on top.
The first problem I encountered going in was a guy who was almost ready to come out. The door swung inwards and he had not locked it so the edge of the door as I pushed it in almost knocked him on the toilet as he washed his hands. I apologized profusely, quickly walking away hoping he wouldn't notice me when he came out into the sparsely populated dining area.
When he exited he looked straight at me and waved the kind of wave that said "The waters fine, come on in."
I walked to the little room and this time the door did not try to remove a person's nose. I was alone and I locked the door for fear that the guillotine of a swinging door might get me too.
I then turned around and bumped into the dresser which created a rocking motion back and forth which in turn caused the vase on top to sway. Water actually spilled out onto the top of the fine piece of furniture, so I grabbed some toilet tissue and wiped it up. As I turned to toss the used tissue into the trash can I bumped into the automatic towel dispenser and it dumped out three towels before I could get away from it. That was okay though, because you know those things don't give out enough paper towels in one motion to wipe a mosquitoes foot properly. I usually use three anyway, so that fit my needs.
All I was there for was to wash my hands so I put my hands under the electric soap dispenser. It started pumping out soap, I pulled my hands back, but it didn't stop. Soap kept coming out. I put my hands back under it, thinking that would give me some time to figure out how to stop the dispenser before the room filled up with pine smelling goo. As I was doing that someone knocked on the door.
"You OK in there?" asked a man's voice.
"Yeah, I'm fine," as my hands filled with green colored sweet smelling goop.
"Just wanted to know because there was a guy the other day that locked the door and then the dead bolt stuck and he couldn't get out. There is supposed to be a sign telling you not to lock the door."
I looked down. There it was laying on the floor, stained with water under the basin.. No wonder the other guy hadn't locked the door.
"Thank you," I muttered but the person on the other side of the mystery door was gone already.
Finally the goop dispenser dribbled to a stop. I had enough soap to wash a Peterbuilt in my hands. What could I do with it all but wash it off. I put my hands under the automatic tap which at first wouldn't put out any water. I stuck my hands under it again thinking the motion sensor just hadn't picked up my little paws under it. It still wouldn't work. I looked at the water in the toilet. With my hands full of green slimy soap the semi-clean water in there looked mighty good. I thought about washing them off in there, before my skin started to turn green. Fortunately (or unfortunately as things would turn out) the tap finally began to spurt water after a couple more tries; very hot water at a very fast pace. Water splattered everywhere on the walls of that little room and on me too. My pants quickly looked as if I hadn't made it to this room on time. It was as stubborn to stop as it was to start. My scalded mitts had lost their radioactive green glow and were now red. I backed up and it kept running and running and running until it finally dribbled to a stop. I turned around and bumped the towel dispenser again launching three more sheets of brown absorbent paper behind the three I had accidentally dispensed before. It took all of them to wipe my hands. While I was concentrating on that I bumped into the dresser once again, this time tipping over the vase, which I quickly set upright rearranging the flowers in their proper position as I stood it upright. Good thing my wife taught me how to arrange flowers years ago when we had a floral shop; no one would know I'd dumped them over except that all the water in the container was gone. I cleaned up the water once again. I thought about filling it from the Old Faithfull spigot that was attached to the basin but I didn't feel like getting a second wash from head to toe.
I then turned and tried to unlatch the deadbolt. It wouldn't move all the way. The door was still locked. I tried again, it just would unlatch. I looked around at my circumstances; trapped in a small room with a goop monster, a wild fire hose and the towel dispenser that never met anyone it didn't like.
I pounded on the door. I pounded again. I waited. I pounded once more.
"Locked in?" said the same voice that had resonated from behind the door before.
"No, I'm practicing my drumming skills on the door," I said.
"Just a minute I can unlock it with the key from this side," said the voice. "I have to run to the janitors closet to get it."
I'm not sure where that storage room was, but it seemed he had to go to Amarillo to get the keys to free me. Finally I heard a click and the door swung open just a little. A waiter looked at me.
"You OK?" he asked as he looked around the room with paper towels all over the floor, green hand cleaner smeared on the mirror and walls, and water just about everywhere else.
"The flowers in here need water," I said as I brushed past him and went on to what turned out to be a very good dinner.