Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Texting Room

Yes, that is what you think it is. I took that photo at the Portland International Airport on the morning of August 25, 2009, the day of my return from my first trip home to New Jersey. When I landed in that friendly, calm, free wi-fi hotspot, after flying with a view of Mounts Hood and Jefferson and being able to tell them apart, this eco-friendly toilet was one of the first things I saw. The fact that it had a #1 flush and a #2 flush was both amusing and awesome to me. I think it was the first time I'd seen that in America. I took the picture for people back on the East Coast, thinking it was a quirky little sign that, before I'd even breathed its outdoor air, I was definitely in Portland.

For some time now, the words "the texting room" have been in my notebook. It's a reminder to myself to write about elements of public restrooms that stand out to me. This seems as good a place as any other to post my collection of photographs taken in public restrooms.

That is the World's Fastest Hand Dryer. This was taken in the ladies' room attached to the First Class lounge at Union Station in Chicago. That lounge didn't have an abundance of outlets for your laptop charger, but it did have a fancy bathroom.

Between Portland's two most popular beverages - beer and coffee - I've had a lot of time to consider ladies' rooms. And yet I still can't decode, based on the doorknobs or handles or any other subtle sign, if a restroom is a single room or if it contains multiple stalls. Many a time have I stood outside the door of a multi-stall restroom, concerned--because I could see a light under and hear movement beyond the door--of walking in on someone. Even when you know it's a single stall, it's still difficult to tell whether or not the restroom is free. Some people just leave the lights on and close the door no matter what; I think that is bad manners! I am always relieved by places that have installed a convenient sign on the lock; it reads "vacant," in green, and then, when the locked is turned, it reads, "occupied" in red. So simple!

Perhaps it's a sign of my growing eccentricity, but the features of the ladies' room are starting to factor into my reviews of bars and restaurants. (Broder Cafe, for example, gets a thumbs-up for its dual-flush toilet and--more importantly--vacant/occupied sign on the door lock, as much as its delicious food and adorable decor. Screen Door, too, has that handy little "vacant/occupied" door lock; although I've never been to Screen Door at a time when there wasn't a three-person line for the ladies' room.) These signs save you the embarrassing questions, knocking, and "Just a second!" "Okay!" dialogues.

This automatic seat coverer, also taken in the First Class ladies' room at Union Station, made me momentarily speechless. I had to wait until the toilet was flushing to take this photo, since I was using a noisy SLR and didn't want to seem like a creep snapping photos in a bathroom stall.

"The Texting Room" concept emerged on my first visit to the Screen Door restaurant on E. Burnside in Portland, and it is because I went back to Screen Door that I was reminded of this topic. I was originally planning to combine this post with a positive review of Screen Door, but I decided that it would send the wrong message to force that nice restaurant to share space with a post that featured pictures of toilets.

A three-person line for the ladies' doesn't seem that long, but when you are full of Stumptown coffee and Bloody Marys, or restaurant tap water and beer, or any combination of the above, the thoughts that come into one's head on that three-person line quickly turn rude. Or at least, as each new girl enters the single-stall room and fails to emerge after 30 seconds, thoughts turn to, "What is she doing in there?! When I get in there, I am just going to pee and get out! I am going to be considerate of my fellow ladies out here!"

But then, the door closes behind you. The noise of the restaurant fades. You are in a place of peace and tranquility. A refuge. It is in that solitude that perspective is gained; the inner debate of "Am I crazy or is he/she/the wait staff being rude to me?" gets settled. It is here that the realization of, "I am not having fun now, and I can go home!" occurs. It is here that one realizes one is actually on a very bad date. Because one is suddenly, post-hand-washing, texting one's ex-boyfriend about a mix CD.

It is also here that one may proclaim (inwardly), "I am having a great time! I can't believe how well this is working out!" It is here that the text messages of, "Omg, my blind date is really cool AND he's cute!" are sent. It is here that the text messages are read and it is here that they are sent.

For example, like that photo above. This was taken and sent as a picture message to several people on the East Coast at 11:30pm (PST) on Friday, November 20th, 2009. What, you don't recognize the amusing graffiti over the ladies' room mirror at the Bye and Bye!?

It is here, leaning against the sink, that brilliant ideas for stories and blog posts are written. You bask in the glow of a single CFL, lulled by the silence interrupted only by sounds of rushing water. You take much longer than necessary to check and adjust your makeup. Then you check your phone. You forget about the long line of ladies you swore to consider; you are under its spell: The Texting Room.

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