When restrooms attack (if available at all)

I love watching the Discovery Channel, the Learning Channel, the Science Channel and the Travel Channel. Twenty-four hours a day, you can watch adventurers boating, crawling, backpacking, motorcycling, biking and hiking to the most exotic and off-the-beaten-track places in the world: the Amazon, Central American jungles, African jungles, South East Asian jungles, to small villages in small countries that don’t have big villages, to desert islands, to remote mountain tops and hidden caves.

The TV host will always gleefully show you close-up videos of the rattle-trap boat they used to get to the location; and the hardships the crew endured to get to the place; and shots of the most disgusting food ever served to a human -- food other animals have turned down: parboiled slugs, sauteed termite larvae, still-beating rat heart. But there is one thing they never film: the facilities. Where does the host go to the bathroom in these places?

I get queasy using those tiny bathrooms on 747s, I can’t imagine doing my business in the wild on an eco/adventure tour while the armed native keeps lookout for wild animals and super-poisonous snakes. I would never survive on “Survivor,” I would never get past the first roadblock on “The Amazing Race.”

To me, bathrooms are the main difference between ordinary, run-of-the-mill tourism and adventure travel. If it has doors and tile and running water, you’re on a tour. If it involves a mop bucket that’s half full of dirty water and a 3-year-old Time magazine hanging on a string, you’re on an adventure.

I’m not big on adventures. I don’t think most people are. That’s why, even with the high price of gas, you see so many of those giant RVs on the roads. Their biggest selling point has got to be the onboard bathroom. Not having to find a ladies room in the middle of Monument Valley is a huge convenience. Access to plumbing is probably one of the reasons the cruise industry continues to grow.

Some say you can judge a nation by how it treats its poor, elderly, children or prisoners, but I say a nation should be judged by the quality and quantity of its bathrooms. In the ‘60s, travelers would tell horror stories about the facilities, even in the most sophisticated parts of France and England. Now they lead the world in modern plumbing.

There has been a distinct lowering of standards in the bathrooms of many gas station/convenience stores over the last few years right here in this country. They used to brag about how clean their restrooms were and their friendly service. Now there is no service whatsoever. They brag about how freshly thawed their frozen-pizza slices are. There seems to be a pattern to how clean their restrooms will be: The higher the price of the gasoline, the filthier the restroom. I have a funny feeling that the tables have turned and that European tourists are going back with horror stories about our plumbing.

The cable channels may be missing a great opportunity here. Wouldn’t “The World’s Deadliest Bathrooms” give “The Ice Road Truckers” a run for their money? Who wouldn't want to watch “Toilet Hunters,” “Even Dirtier Than Dirty Jobs” and “When Rest Rooms Attack?” They could probably get more viewers and win some public service awards at the same time.

Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at jim_mullen@myway.com

Copyright 2008, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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