The measure of a store or a restaurant is its rest rooms.
Everyone compares prices, service and quality, but the bottom line is that the customer is not going to be happy without a satisfactory place to pee.
This evening, we took a jaunt over to Yuma, which, while a substantial drive, allows us to walk the aisles of Wal-Mart and eat dinner at one of our favorite chain restaurants. Living out in the desert, the closest Wal-Mart is 45 miles away. Yuma is twice that distance, but provides a much larger variety of opportunities to divest us of our money (an activity that my wife refers to by a strange foreign term, “shopping”).
The drive down U.S. 95 takes you through featureless desert and hence is mind-numbingly boring. To compensate, nature provides heart-stopping thrills for the driver’s entertainment. We have not been to Yuma since last June, at which time we wondered whether we would ever go back at all. That was the time we almost didn’t make it home.
It was a Saturday, a day we normally sleep late, but we had rolled out of bed at the crack of dawn to make an 8:00 car maintenance appointment at the car dealership. By the time we finished all our business with the local merchants, it was late afternoon. Donna began the trek back up the 95, but soon felt sleepy and pulled over for me to drive. I hadn’t been driving for more than ten minutes when it started to rain, a light spattering of drops at first. Soon, it began to pour. I came to a dip in the road and notice that, in the space of a few minutes, it had filled up with water that had begun spilling onto the roadway. Having stopped, I woke up Donna and asked for advice on whether to cross.
I didn’t think we had any choice, so I moved into the center of the road and began to creep across. Donna, a very calm person in most circumstances, was as close to hysterical as I have ever seen her. “We’re gonna get swept away! Go faster!” she yelled. We made it across, but two minutes later we approached an even deeper dip that was filled with water just like the other one. By now, the rainwater was running furiously down the wash like a whitewater rapids. Cars were stopped in both directions, everyone fearing that they would float downstream if they dared attempt a crossing.
We switched drivers again. We consulted with the driver of the vehicle in front of us, who had no words of wisdom to offer. As the water washed over the road, we began to wonder whether it would rise enough that we would need to climb onto the roof of the car to await rescue. Donna phoned her mother and her sister to ask them to pray, as this might be the last of us.
We realized that there was nothing we could do but wait it out and hope for the best. It might take hours for the water to recede, I thought, and only if it stopped raining. Well, we had bottled water and the food we had just bought. Let’s just hope we didn’t need to use the rest room.
Finally, the huge motor home stopped in the opposite direction gunned the engine and barreled across. Encouraged, the truck behind it zoomed across as well. The vehicle in front of us gingerly picked its way across, followed by us.
My story was met with much laughter when I told it at work. We had always ignored the “Flash Flood Zone” signs, but apparently they weren’t kidding. “You don’t go to Yuma when it rains!” my incredulous coworkers exclaimed. “You don’t go to Yuma when it might rain! You don’t go to Yuma when there is a cloud in the sky!”
After that, we were gun shy for nine months. But today, with a clear, blue sky, we decided it was time to try it again. Passing the “Do Not Enter When Flooded” and “Flash Flood Zone” signs, we expected an uneventful trip. Nature, however, had other plans.
I noticed a sign that warned “Watch Out for Animals.” Animals? What kind of animals? A couple of times we had seen a fox tear across the highway and once we saw a buck with impressive antlers on the side of the road. I figured that’s what the sign referred to. Donna mentioned that animals were usually not too hard to see due to the reflection of their eyes in the headlights.
That’s when we spotted a donkey on the side of the road. I told Donna that I had read that the desert was full of wild donkeys and horses. She asked where they came from and I told her that they were the progeny of beasts abandoned many years ago after they had outlived their usefulness as work animals.
Not ten minutes later, I was barely able to see a set of legs running furiously across the road, directly in our path. Donna blew the horn. Whatever it was couldn’t have been more than a few feet from our tires. “Did you see that?” she exclaimed. “That was a horse! That was almost some accident.” I agreed that our car and the horse would probably not have survived such a collision. Nor would we have, she added. The horse was entirely black except for some patches of white on the legs, making it all but invisible to a driver.
Having managed not to pee my pants, when we arrived at Wal-Mart I desperately needed to use the rest room facilities. Not just the urinal, mind you. I needed to go the full monte.
Just like many Wal-Mart locations, the men’s room in the one we visited today offered only two stalls, one of them a “handicapped” stall, enlarged to allow entry of a wheelchair. The handicapped stall was occupied. As I was about dying at this point, I was very grateful that the remaining stall was available.
The stall had no lock, but in my extreme need, I was undeterred. I pretty much knew what would happen. The next customer to need a stall would simply push the door open and then embarrassedly mutter apologies. I have been through this routine many times over the years. When the door begins to open, I yell “Excuse me!” or “Occupado!” and hope that my visitor will quickly go away.
When I heard someone walk into the rest room, I gave out a here-we-go sigh. But the handicapped stall had been vacated and the guy made a beeline therefor. My neighbor felt the need to announce himself and his mission. “Time to release the Old Yellow!” he sang out. Moments later, he was done and I heard him call out “mission accomplished!”
Thank you, dear sir, I really needed the running commentary to get a full picture of your activities. You do realize you could have just posted a status update on your Facebook page, right? Or perhaps you could pull out your cell phone and send a tweet: “Now peeing in Wal-Mart.”
I have always believed that it is in good taste to flush the toilet when you are done. Am I wrong here? The problem, however, is that it is often a challenge to figure out how to do this in a public rest room. As alluded to in previous posts, in many things I am hopelessly old-fashioned. I actually still expect there to be a handle for this purpose. Good luck with that, mister.
In the absence of a handle, I hope for some manner of instruction, such as a button emblazoned with the helpful label “Press.” Nope, not in Wal-Mart.
My last best hope was that perhaps this was one of those newfangled self-flushing toilets. I seriously doubted this, as those usually flush before I am ready, sending a jet of water up my butt like some kind of diabolical bidet.
I was ready to give up. I said a silent apology to the next visitor, who would withdraw in revulsion upon opening the door to God’s little excretory acre.
That’s when I noticed what looked like a steel bolt that helped to hold the toilet apparatus together. I felt foolish as I touched it, as if for good luck.
I should mention that I am one of those people who feels the obsessive need to wash my hands before leaving the rest room. I attribute this to early religious training.
One would think that, at my age, I would have learned how to use a freakin’ sink. Hahahaha!
My father always told me that one place is pretty much the same as the next. “The grass is green, the sky is blue and they have hot and cold running water.” Perhaps in most countries, Dad, but definitely not in Wal-Mart Land.
Like the toilets, the sinks at Wal-Mart do not come with instructions. This should not be a problem, as I have been using sinks for a while now. I expect two handles or knobs, one on the left and the other on the right. Typically, they are labeled C for “cold” and H for “hot” or, in Spanish-speaking areas, F for “frio” and C for “caliente.” I don’t know what language they speak in Wal-Mart Land, but I was horrified to find that there were no handles or knobs whatsoever.
How was I to get a little hot water and soap? My intention was to lather up and wash not only my palms, but also between each of my fingers. With the flu going around, I keep reading about the importance of hand-washing to avoid the spread of infection. And it’s important to make sure that you scrub long enough to kill all those nasty bacteria. Some recommend that you recite the entire A-B-C song, including the part about “next time, sing along with me” (when I was a kid, it was “teacher, teacher, don’t hit me,” but I suppose the modern version reflects the general disappearance of corporal punishment in the schools). As for myself, I prefer to sing “Mary had a little lamb.”
In public, I try to sing very quietly, almost under my breath, to avoid icy stares, laughter and the chance that the nice young men in the clean white coats will come to take me away.
Not having a clue as to how to turn on the water in Wal-Mart’s rest room sink, I simply placed my hands under the spigot and hoped for the best. Voilà! Out rushed the water — ice cold water. I came to the realization that Wal-Mart’s sinks do not offer hot water! I resigned myself to settle for cold. At least I could wash my hands.
“…It followed her to school one day, which was against the rules. It made the children laugh and play to see a lamb at school.”
As soon as I withdrew my hands, the flow of water stopped! Will modern marvels never cease.
Next came the matter of drying my dripping hands. Heading straight for the paper towel dispenser, my task was to determine from whence said paper towels could be pulled. I generally expect a little bit of white or brown towel to peek out from some part of the dispenser to give me a clue. No such luck.
I looked for the little, circular knob on the side of the dispenser that one is supposed to be able to turn to make missing paper towels magically appear. I was unable to find such a knob.
Finally, I ran my hand along the bottom of the dispenser, which was probably loaded with germs and counteracted the whole purpose of hand-washing in the first place. My hope was that I would feel a paper towel stuck in the opening. I did feel the opening: An empty hole.
Next, I proceeded to the electronic hand dryer. “No Touch!” it proudly advertised. I waved my hands back and forth under the opening, as if making some type of magic incantation that would cause hot air to begin flowing from the loins of the machine. No luck. Perhaps I forgot to say “abracadabra.”
Thinking I would have no choice but to wipe my hands on my pants, in a last act of desperation, I touched the No Touch machine.