Wednesday, August 22, 2007

a series of fortunate events: interlude

Very distinct differences exist between the Little Rock Airport restrooms and those of its Dallas-Fort Worth counterpart. For the convenience of travelers, the toilets and sinks are automated (I assume this is also intended to reduce the spread of travel germs). Motion sensors detect the approach and departure of each bladder reliever and hand washer, flushing or releasing water as needed.

Little Rock’s airport has been recently remodeled, and one convenient new feature is toilet stall doors that swing out (rather than in toward the toilet), allowing plenty of room for solo travelers to drag their worldly possessions in with them. Experienced users of automated toilets move carefully into position so as not to alert the motion detectors to their presence and initiate premature flushing. Once prepared to leave, you arise with great intensity, signaling to the toilet that you are leaving and it can proceed with flushing. But it doesn’t. So you do some squats (which, if you have my thighs, you desperately needed anyway), but to no avail. Before you realize it, you are dancing for the toilet (and its not giving you any tips), which still refuses to flush and allow you to make your exit. So, you give in. Reaching forward toward the tiny black dot beneath the sensor, you push the button and the toilet flushes.

Reminding yourself not to touch anything with that finger until it is thoroughly cleansed, you swing open the stall door, praying you don’t knock-out an unsuspecting traveler on the other side as you make your way quickly to the automatic sink. With one foot laying claim to your suitcase, your shoulder bag relegated to resting on your rump and your travel pillow under your arm, you ease your soapy hands under the sink which began flowing as soon as it saw you coming. Germs be damned, you wash all angles of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails, paying special care to the “flushing” finger. As you turn to reach for a paper towel, foot still touching a corner of your luggage and pillow still firmly gripped in your armpit, you realize the water is still running due to the presence of your suitcase handle. Conscious of our precious resources, you abandon the pursuit of the paper towel (you are not resource conscious enough to waste time under the air dryer), slide your non-pillow holding arm under the handle of the suitcase and drag your way to the towel receptacle in your best Egor impression.

The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex is highly advanced in comparison to its easterly neighbor, and undoubtedly offers a more convenient restroom experience for weary travelers. Unfortunately, I was reminded that DFW has also been around longer than Little Rock National and had built their restrooms prior to the realization that many travelers take their suitcases with them to the toilet. Given that the stall doors open in toward the toilet (which does prevent the anxiety of pummeling a fellow passenger), travelers may be surprised to discover their here-to-for hidden talent for contortionism. The most common method seems to involve dragging your luggage in as close to the toilet as you can (without making contact with the pit of infestation), straddling the seat as you close the door behind you… well, in front of you.

While maneuvering through the door is a minor inconvenience of DFW restrooms, the true cosmopolitan nature of your location soon becomes apparent. Featuring exceptionally sensitive motion detectors, the DFW toilet actually doubles as a bidet throughout your bathroom experience. Note there is no extra charge for this feature. Dallas residents also obviously operate on a higher level of consciousness than their “natural state” cohorts. The sink sensors are designed so that if you lower your hands into the bowl of the basin, the water automatically shuts off. In this case, it is important to soap up and scrub both hands sans water (repeating the foot-on-luggage-bag-on-back-pillow-in-armpit acrobatics previously featured). When ready to rinse, you simply wave one hand in front of the sensor as you run the other under the faucet, switch and repeat with the other hand.

The art of bathroom design was not something I had really given much thought to prior to this experience, but the juxtaposition of the two facilities made it impossible to ignore. I now have a great deal of respect for those who spend sleepless nights trying to improve my bathroom visits. Perhaps if more travelers took the time to appreciate the subtleties surrounding their restroom adventures, we could all help to make this world a better place.

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