Saturday, March 14, 2015

Sensor-Activated Restroom Facilities

A recent road trip to Vermont reminded me of the challenges I now face when I use the restrooms on our Interstate highways. New technologies that enable hands-free and paperless cleanup are steps forward for reducing the spread of germs, but they’re often stress-inducing for me.

It seems logical to start with the toilets, since that’s where our visits usually begin. I’ll bet all the women out there have had experiences similar to mine with restroom toilets. They often self-flush before I even get my jeans unzipped, but I’m never sure why.

The facilities in the sink area are sometimes light sensitive, other times motion-activated. I had always assumed that the ones in the stalls were all motion-activated. Now I’m wondering if they have dual controls. The pale moon of my behind seems to trigger a second flush before I even sit down. And yes, ladies, now that my balance is hinky, I’ve given up straddling.

The third flush happens during the cleanup phase. (Mercifully, the toilet paper dispensers have escaped sensor technology thus far.) What is usually the fourth and final flush follows the movement of zipping up my jeans. Not only are all these flushes bewildering, they’re also a flagrant waste of water.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the flush sensors that don’t recognize that I’ve entered the stall, used the throne, tidied up and prepared to exit. These seemingly nonfunctional units force me to lean in over the bowl, waving my hands in front of the sensor, looking for a push button override. You know where this is headed. Just as my face is squarely over the bowl, the flusher activates, giving me a facial that means an extra cleanup at the sink.

Ah! The sink! The water and soap dispensers are typically light-activated. They’re looking for beams to bounce back from a white top. Or at least a non-black one. I worked in Manhattan for 20 years and I still live in black clothing. I’m sometimes tempted to drop trou and flash my pasty whiteness to turn on the water. Of course, that would be impolite. Besides, by the time I could turn back around, the water would have turned off.

What I’m sometimes forced to do is to ask a complete stranger who is clad in a light top and using a nearby sink to please stand in front of my faucet. Eventually, I find someone who stays in proximity long enough for me to explain the light reflection problem—black absorbs light; white reflects it. I then stand to the side of my sink and stretch my hands in to reach the water that they have kindly turned on for me.

I fare no better with sensor-activated paper towel dispensers, but those are mostly being replaced. The newer machines with the “blades” of hot air seem to respond better to my presence. They create different problems for me. Sometimes the blast is so intense it almost knocks me over, and I’m no featherweight.

More often, the device is mounted too high for me. In order to get my hands far enough up to activate the air flow, I have to hold them shoulder height or higher. That causes the water on them to roll up my forearms, soaking my sleeve ends. This in turn requires me to stand at the machine for a considerable amount of time until the fabric dries. By then my upper arms are aching. If I’m going to be traveling a lot, I'll need to lift hand weights to strengthen my biceps.

We should have special restroom tools for women, starting with a long-handled flushing device. It should be strong enough to push any override buttons at the backs of the toilets, and it should be white, so it reflects light. A small pouch with a white flag would be useful to trick faucets into turning on. I could tuck it into the neck of my shirt like a lobster bib. Those blade devices will be trickier to get around. I suppose we could carry personal size hot air blowers in our purses, but really…

I think I’ll just take a selfie of my rear end and flash that at any of those sensors. The light will reflect off the photo, or the motion of the paper waving will get the sensor’s attention. I’m willing to provide copies to my female friends free of charge. My male friends will have to take their own moon shots. Most of them probably already have one from their high school days hidden in their sock drawer. And yes I know, gentlemen, this entire post is TMI.

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