Saturday, January 06, 2007

But officer, I reeeeeeeally had to pee . . .

One of the reasons I find blogging fun is that it forces me to research and find out things I would never in a million years have otherwise discovered. Here is a case in point:

On my trip to Los Angeles over the holidays, I (of course) spent a lot of time checking out the changes in my downtown, and I was surprised to see that the long-awaited $1/4 million (yes, that's $250,000 EACH) public bathrooms, which have been the subject of so much for controversy for at least the past 5 years, have finally been installed in 4 places.

By way of background, downtown suffers from a lack of public restroom facilities. This most often comes up when discussing the homeless, and whether or not it is legal to cite someone for public urination when they are homeless and have no other alternative but to pee (or much, much worse, believe me) right out in public. It's obviously a huge sticking point (no pun intended) with the local (non-homeless) residents and business people.

It's such a big problem that I had to research it, since business people were actually getting cited for washing down the poop on the sidewalk in front of their businesses because it goes down the gutter, into the ocean, and spreads e coli or something totally disgusting that I want to stop writing right now. Ew. Flashbacks. Anyway, suffice it to say that I have intimate knowledge of facts on subjects such as the volume of feces the average person produces each day (you'd be shocked).

So the city ponied up a $MILLION$ to buy four of these free-standing, European style potties that are self-cleaning, timed automatic doors, etc. They have running water, are automated and also physically hooked into the sewer through the sidewalk, and it costs a ton to install them (ripping up the sidewalk, etc.), not to mention the price of the actual structure.

By the way, I believe the Americans with Disabilities Act required that they be able to have the door closed for at least 20 minutes, after which time they would automatically open. This is terribly awkward for at least 2 reasons: 1) if you are truly disabled, or just sick, and aren't finished within that time, you could find yourself stuck on the toilet when the door automatically opens to the busy sidewalk, and also 2) if you are a hooker or druggie looking for 20 minutes of privacy, there is a LOT you can efficiently accomplish in that chunk of time.

So once the city bought them, it was a massive controversy over where to place them. None of the legitimate businesses or residents wanted them anywhere near them, since they were anticipated to be huge crime and filth magnets. One did get installed at 5th and San Julian (in the heart of Skid Row) before I left, and it was quite the happening spot, shall we say.

So I was rather surprised to see one located at 5th and Hill Street, right atop the Metro stop at Pershing Square, and close to the bustling Jewelry District, but not the classiest corner (but a great spot if you are looking for heroin- it's where actor Leif Garrett was arrested a year ago).

So when this fancy pisseria (I think that's actually what they call them in European slang) appeared in my path, I had to laugh at the sign that said it is STILL not in service!! Years of getting the political will and the money to buy them, another several heated years of figuring out where to physically place them, and it's still "Not In Service (yet)." The "yet" made me think that someone was reeeeeally being hopeful about having a clean, safe spot to "rest" when shopping downtown. Hopefully they aren't holding . . . their breath.

In looking into this matter, though, I found that there is something called the American Restroom Association, which advocates for free access to safe, clean, well-designed bathrooms across the country. Who knew?? And who knows? I'll need a job when I get back to Los Angeles- this might be right up my . . . alley.

p.s. John noted that the 2007 World Toilet Summit is going to be held in . . . wait for it . . . New Delhi, India! Having been there, I can think of no place more appropriate, since the place is basically one giant toilet (apologies to my gracious host, Sanjeev).

Yes, spending a month in India taught me the discipline of prolonged bladder control, since there really wasn't any place I'd consider visiting in my daily touristing. My (male) travel companions just used the sidewalk, like everyone else!

p.p.s. To this post, I have to add that the BEST thing about people peeing on the sidewalk in Downtown Los Angeles is that . . . it washes away the vomit!

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