I’m in the mood to reanimate one of my long-dead rants: The public toilet tirade.
When it comes to public amenities of any kind, Seattle is insane. “What? Amenities? Will we have to share them with homeless people or undeserving tourists?”
I’m really old. “How old are you, Wes?” you ask.
I’m so old, I remember a public toilet in Seattle. I also remember public benches you could stretch out on that weren’t in dedicated playgrounds for the rich like South Lake Union. I remember public water fountains that actually worked, built on sidewalks.
Now, if you’re thirsty, instead of drinking perfectly good Cedar River water from a fountain, you’re supposed to pop into a 7-Eleven or a drug store and buy a plastic bottle of water created to enrich Nestlé or Coca-Cola at your expense and the expense of the environment. But hey, it’s all good because we can afford it, right? Because we all make the big bucks at Amazon.
And because we’re all executives at Amazon, we can shop and eat out in South Lake Union where there is actually a public bench that doesn’t have raised dividers to keep you from lying down, because lying down is OK if you’re rich enough.
I’ll bet, that if I look long enough, I’ll find the one public toilet..
I’m sure there’s a “public” toilet inside Bezos’ Balls, in the part that only worthy Amazon employees are ever allowed. The part meant to remind you of the vanishing tropical forest that we used to think of when we heard “Amazon.” A forest that will soon consist of a small preserved patch of wilderness criss-crossed by little trains packed with sightseers who will only be able to pay for their tickets to the park because they’re Amazon executives.
In my day, not only were there public toilets, but even toilets in private establishments were effectively public. If you wanted to use a toilet before ordering food at a restaurant you could just go use it, without having to beg for a key chained to a hub cap. Back when those keys were introduced we used to call them “keys of shame.” “We all know where you’re going! Tell us how it all comes out, OK?”
Remember when Seattle decided to experiment with having public toilets again? The only way our city government could envision a return to public toilets was to buy smart high-tech self-cleaning toilets. Because Seattle is a smart gleaming high-tech Shangri-La in the clouds, so we have to have toilets to match. Public toilets that even an Amazon executive would deign to sit down on.
As it happens they were so high-tech that only three people on the West Coast were trained to fix them, who demanded professional-level pay, and the toilets broke down more often than Internet Explorer (AKA Exploder.) With all the repairs the city quickly decided their experiment cost too much.
Apparently, all the city took away from their experiment was the idea “public toilets don’t work.”
Public toilets work! And they work for us all. To all of you too young to remember how that could be, I will explain.
The key is to make it all simple. No high-tech toilets. Space-age technology and toilets don’t mix. It’s enough that toilets flush and there’s running water and a place to wash your hands after. There doesn’t need to be a chrome exterior. The toilet doesn’t need Wi-Fi. You shouldn’t have to say “Alexa, I’d like a serving of toilet paper, please.” The toilet doesn’t have to have face-recognition to remember you, and greet you by name.
Build low-tech public toilets and pay people a decent wage to keep them clean.
It works at the stadiums. It works at the public libraries. It can work anywhere. It creates jobs. It makes the city more attractive to tourists. It makes the city more likely to appeal as a site for conventions. It makes downtown more attractive to local shoppers. Therefore it boosts the economy in multiple ways, which more than generates the tax income needed to pay for it.
We should restore and promote the city’s water fountains while we’re at it. We have some of the best water in the world and we should be making a big deal about it.
A city that bans plastic drinking straws could put a little effort into cutting consumption of water in plastic bottles.
Make Seattle a place designed for people again.
Dr. Wes Browning is a one time math professor who has experienced homelessness several times. He supplied the art for the first cover of Real Change in November of 1994 and has been involved with the organization ever since. This is his weekly column, Adventures in Irony, a dry verbal romp of the absurd. He can be reached at drwes (at) realchangenews (dot) org
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