Rest Stop

As a native of Glacier County, I have traveled over the Rocky Mountains via Marias Pass all my life. You’d think I would learn not to buy an extra-large Pepsi in Browning when every rest area for the next eighty miles is boarded up for the winter. But no, I did it again last week. I wonder if the convenience store clerks in Hungry Horse bet on how many westbound people per day will burst through their door and shuffle straight to the bathroom, whimpering?

Regardless of where I travel, public restrooms are an adventure, and I don’t mean in an “Ew, gross” way. I know women who refuse to let their butt touch the seat anywhere but in their own home. They obviously did not grow up using the wooden outhouses at the Birch Creek rodeo grounds, where the toilet paper holder was a six inch nail pounded into an unfinished two-by-four and cleaning the restroom meant waiting until the pit got full, then hoisting the whole thing up and moving it to a new spot.

Luckily, here in the cold country a person didn’t have to stick their face down close enough to check the hole for snakes, but it wasn’t unusual for a daddy-long-legs to saunter across your bare thigh. And if there was no toilet paper, you could just sit tight and let the wind whistling through the cracks in the walls do the job. The wind always blows at Birch Creek on rodeo day. Add a rain shower and you’ve got an all-natural cowboy bidet.

Nowadays, public restrooms are designed for germaphobes. Everything is no-touch, awesome in theory but more troublesome in practice. Like when I lean forward to reach for the paper and the toilet, sensing a change in pressure, flushes and scares the you-know-what out of me. Which, granted, is the reason I’m in the restroom, but I prefer to let these things happen in their own time.

Sinks are the worst. No two work the same. Do I push down on the lever or pull up? Wave my hand underneath, over top, on the side? Am I doing this wrong, or is it just ignoring me? I cannot tell you how many times I’ve stood in a busy discount store bathroom making increasingly rude gestures at a faucet while the woman next to me gives a casual flick of her fingers and gets an instant response, leaving me to wait until she’s gone so I can dive over to catch the last trickle of water before it shuts itself off.

Then I have to dry my hands. More waving, as if I’m trying to cast a spell on the towel dispenser, until someone dripping on the floor behind me says, “You have to push the lever.” Oh. Right. And then the very next time, I’ll veer too close to the sinks on the way to the nearest open stall. Three faucets come on, the dispenser spews yards of paper towels onto the floor and a crunchy lady in an organic cotton skirt and Birkenstocks glares at me for wasting natural resources.
The ecologically-responsible alternative is the blow dryer. They come primarily in two versions: the old-fashioned ones with a big silver button you push four times before a feeble stream of warm air dries your hands enough to wipe them on the front of your jeans without leaving visible wet streaks, or the new super-powered sort invariably found in airports that dry your hands in ten seconds. Awesome, except call it the farm kid in me, but I am a tiny bit apprehensive about sticking my fingers into something called a Blade.

Speaking of airports, I tend to arrive at my destination severely dehydrated due to moisture-sucking cabin ventilation systems and my fear of being forced to use an airplane lavatory. That noise they make! Like a Shop-Vac on steroids. I’m convinced if I forget to shut the lid before I flush, it’ll suck me in and spit me out at thirty thousand feet. Until I find a reliable parachute that fits into my laptop case, I’ll keep refusing all on-board beverage service, thank you very much. Which means I can cross that trip to Australia off my bucket list. I would perish of thirst on a fifteen hour flight.

Turns out, some things never change, though. A few years ago I went back to Birch Creek for a rodeo. Lo and behold, they still had those same wooden outhouses. I contemplated one for a long moment, then turned around and gave my husband a big hug.

Startled, he asked, “What was that for?”

“Getting me a camper with a bathroom,” I said, and kissed him for good measure.

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