Thursday, August 4, 2011

What I Did This Summer -- Part 2: Toilet Tourism

The Gaches Mansion, LaConner, Washington, 1891

Nothing says "Happy Birthday, America!" like the smell of gunpowder and grilled meat.  I know this, because my Fourth of July contained neither.  No fireworks.  No barbecue.  Just a three day weekend full of fast-food play areas and public toilets.  Well, okay.  There were some breathtaking giant redwoods, a visit with family, gorgeous beaches, an indoor pool, and waffles for breakfast every morning.  But talking about the good stuff is easy.  And, quite frankly, a little boring.  It's been done to death, hasn't it.  So, instead, I offer you this.  Not just the Fourth of July weekend, but my entire summer vacation in potty stops.  Toilet tourism, if you will.

Yelp, the website that allows real people to write real reviews about all kinds of services -- restaurants, shops, even radio stations -- does not have a category for public toilets.  They really should.  Travelers could use this information.  Especially travelers with children, or other disabilities.  Since I have no website designing-launching-marketing experience I am going to 1) give away (yet another) million dollar idea and 2) tell you about a few places you should avoid and/or go out of you way to visit, if you happen to be in the area.

I will start with the bad.

Any chemical port-a-loo should be avoided.  Especially if you have a child with you.  Open sewage.  No running water.   Unless you are at Burning Man or Glastonbury where they are part of the charm.

I hate gas station bathrooms.  If you have to ask for a key (ew, gross) and go "round back," the room will not be sanitary.  No exceptions.  In the winter, it will be freezing.  In the summer, it will be sweltering.  And you will get more germs washing your hands than not.  I know you are "already there for gas...why make two stops...the rest of the place looks clean...yada yada."  Do not ask for that key, thinking that this place is an exception.  It is not.  It. is. not.

Some gas stations have bathrooms that are not "round back," but even then you are better off going to a fast-food restaurant.  So, after you pay for your gas, get back in your car, and drive across the street to the McDonald's or Taco Bell or whatever.  But not Arby's and Dairy Queens.  For some reason, they are seldom what one would hope.  And, don't feel guilty about using their facilities without buying anything.  They don't mind.  Really.  While you are using their toilet, they are imprinting their logo and brand onto the minds of your children.  Everyone is happy.

There is a town -- yes, an entire town -- called Willits, that should be avoided.  It is named for the rare infectious disease you can get from using their facilities.  Sorry, Willits, it's true and you know it.  (And, no, I'm not just cranky because you have put three stop lights in the middle of an interstate highway, just so we can all sit in soul-sucking traffic and crawl through your dismal town.)

Now, for the good.

In Ferndale, California, if your husband refuses stop and you drive past the old churches and restored Victorian homes, past the sidewalk cafes and quaint tourist shops all the way through town, you come to a park.  It is lovely.  Wide open spaces, hemmed in by blackberry bramble and bocce ball courts.  And the nicest park bathroom I have ever seen.  Ever.  It was clean.  It was well lit and ventilated with windows.  There was real toilet paper.  Warm water.  Soap.  Paper towels.  I talked about it all day.  Seriously.  Hubband thought I was crazy, but he can go in the woods.  He has no idea the toilets I've seen.  Uff da!

Burlington, Washington.  Cascade Mall.  Macy's.  First floor behind housewares.  The best bathroom in the (parts of the) WORLD (I have been to).  Toilet, clean.  Sink, clean.  Floor, clean.  You could eat off that floor.  Warm water, scented soap, soft paper towels.  There was a changing table, also clean, that did not creak, or bow, or threaten to rip from the wall while my child was on it.  This was a five star bathroom.

There are also a few honorable mentions.

Most Adventurous   The Woods, Arcata, California.

I won't say where exactly, for reasons that will soon be obvious.  We were in Arcata visiting my cousin Jake and his family.  On a "hike" in the woods, Samuel announced to the world, "I gotta poop!"  Not happy news, as this meant a "hike" back to the parking lot and the aforementioned, to-be-avoided-with-children chemical toilet.  Cousin Jake to the rescue.  With his patience and expertise, Sam pooped in the woods, in a hole Jake dug with his shoe.  Jake even cleaned him up.  I don't know how, and I don't want to.  Port-o-potty averted!  Of course, Samuel thought that was the most exciting thing in all his four years on this earth.  We weren't even out of the woods when he needed to "go again."  So, we have set a few boundaries.  Pooping outside is to be a "with Cousin Jake only" activity.  This should work, since we only see Jake about twice a year.  I have to warn my mom before we meet at her house for Christmas.

Most Inspirational   703 South 2nd Street, LaConner, Washington.

If you have a smart phone, you have used it in the bathroom.  You know you have.  You have read the paper or checked your e-mail or played Angry Birds while pretending to use the bathroom just to get a few moments of peace.  (I won't tell your boss if you won't tell mine.)  If you haven't, you should, and I am going to tell you why.  On July 18, 2011 at 3:55 pm, I sent the following message to my sister, with whom I have swapped many texts while in the bathroom (don't judge me):  "I am in the bathroom at the LaConner Quilt Museum, housed in the old Gaches Mansion, built in 1891.  I am going to start toilet texting from exotic locales."

Again, don't judge me.  Join me.  402-317-5229.  That is my text number.  It is not a cell phone, just a free text service.  Go ahead.  Save it in your phone.  Right now.  Don't wait.  Save it in your phone and use it for all your toilet tourism.  Are you at the Eiffel Tower toilet?  I want to hear about it.  Have you found a restaurant with heated seats?  Let me know.  Just want to gripe about the condition of the john at your local Wal-mart?  I'm listening.


  1. LOL! Thank you Tracey! Btw, I was born in Fortuna. Lived many years in Arcata. I visited Willits and Ferndale often as a child and childless adult. Maybe the toilets are why we don't go there now ;)

  2. Oh, I haven't been in a gas station bathroom for years but on family vacations as a kid, some times that is all there was available. And they are always gross, like you said. Ewww. I have been in a few bathrooms that I thought it was safer not to wash my hands it was that bad. I used a bit of tp to touch the flush handle and didn't touch a thing else. Ugh.

    Your poop in the woods story will be told at family gatherings for many years to come! LOL...

  3. Oh, sis, you wil never guess where I am reading your blog. Hehe. Must restrain my laughter, as my husband may wonder what I find so funny in "the office".

  4. This is hilarious! I love it. Exotic toileting texting will certainly make it onto my next resume. :)

  5. YOU are listening and I am LAUGHING! LOVE IT! I often text from the toilet as it is the ONLY place without CHILDREN!! GAH! My girls (now 12 and 10) need to USE every toilet we pass! STILL!! EVERY SINGLE ONE! I have decided it is PURE curiosity about how it is decorated/whether it has automatic flush/how filthy it is/or in the OFF chance it may have FOAM soap dispensers which is always the fav!!!!! ;)

  6. If I had a cell phone I would text you and tell you all about the local toilets as I travel home to my parents' place on Monday. You should link this post to 'trip' Someone is sure to find it valuable :D

  7. Hi there! Long time, no see! I loved this post. You write really well. Hysterical! I could write the equivalent UK version, now Hattie is out of nappies. We could set up a thread/trend or whatever it's called on Twitter!!

  8. Did I mention I grew up in Arcata?

  9. You are such a spokesperson for the moms of America! Thank you for acknowledging us as we find creative ways to eliminate body waste for ourselves and our children while traveling. :)

    Mine are older now, but I recall traveling with a potty in the rear of the SUV, so that we could pull into a parking lot (with a wooded area nearby so that we could empty it) and let the kids use it. I was tempted to sit my ?&# on it a few times to avoid the gas station facilities, but resisted, as you can imagine why.

    Lining the toilets with tissues...oh, the memories.

    I think there's a job for you out there - touring, documenting, and publishing a book. :)