Road restroom ratings for troubadours

Chris JonesFor the male road musician, the highway men’s room is a sad fact of life. Last week I promised (or threatened) to begin publishing road bathroom reviews in this space, and if I fail to deliver on that, I’ll be no better than the reluctant teenager who was charged with the assignment of cleaning the men’s room and restocking the toilet paper. So here goes:

First of all, I should explain that I’ll be utilizing the time-honored star system, awarding each facility in question a star rating from one to five, with five being the cleanest and most appealing (better make that “least unappealing”) restroom.

Here is a useful key to help you understand what each star rating means, beginning with the highest possible ranking:

***** Moderately scuzzy – This bathroom has been maintained by someone at some point in the last two weeks. All plumbing facilities appear to be functional, and there is toilet paper and and an available method for washing and drying hands. The dominant smell is disinfectant, but not strong enough to close off your throat or poison a laboratory rodent (there are also no visible rodents in a five star restroom). It’s worlds away from the standards of even a bad women’s bathroom, but by our low standards, it’s pretty decent.

**** Tolerably nasty – Some, but not all facilities are operational. It was cleaned, though with no enthusiasm, sometime in the last month. There is toilet paper in one of the stalls. What more do you want?

*** Typically filthy – This is your average road men’s room: It smells bad, the floor is dirty, most of the toilets are clogged, and at least one urinal is in perpetual flush mode. There may or may not be toilet paper available.

** Gross – This is worse than most, but usable if you’re desperate. In a typical two-star men’s room, the floor is strewn with debris and overflow from two of the non-functioning toilets. It’s best to close off your sinuses before entering. Minors should not be allowed in the bathroom stalls, due to the graphic and offensive nature of the graffiti.

* Dangerously vile – The only reason this hasn’t been condemned and closed is that the local health inspector was paid off by the manager. The less said about one of these the better. It’s the kind of bathroom you open the door to and decide it’s worth trying the place across the road.

Using this rating system, here are a few reviews of restrooms I visited in the past 30 days. Some were truck stop facilities, others were gas station public restrooms:

Hal’s Stop ‘n’ Go, just off I-40, Cookeville, TN:

*** Hal himself has probably not been in this place recently, or he would have gotten one of his employees to at least restock the toilet paper and maybe mop the floor. The decor and design were in a functional 1960s Soviet style: depressing but not offensive. The graffiti inside the one working bathroom stall featured concise and relatively tasteful political commentary: “Obama suks!” followed by the retort “So do you!” The artificial lemon disinfectant smell was fairly overpowering but could have been worse. I did have to open the back of the toilet to get it to flush. I would return to Hal’s men’s room if I really had to. Badly.

Riverside Trucker’s Paradise, West Memphis, AR:

** Pretty tragic. The floor appeared to have recently been flooded. The urinals all seemed to be installed abnormally low to the ground, making me wonder if this had once been an elementary school converted into a truck stop, or maybe the “Trucker’s Paradise” was actually a combination truck stop and elementary school. In any case, the previous users of this bathroom seemed to have the hygiene style and finesse of 10 year-old boys, so there may be something to that theory. There was no toilet paper except the one soaked roll in the corner, lying next to what from a distance looked like a dead animal (I didn’t look closer). The sink actually worked until I tried to turn the tap off and the handle came off in my hand. I won’t be back.

Gas and Save just off I-5 (“The five” in west coast talk) south of Seattle, WA:

**** In spite of the emphasis on the frugal implied in the name, they had actually taken some care with the bathrooms here. The decor was a tasteful blue tile floor (minimally stained, and blue wallpaper with only one obscene drawing on it. A random oil painting of a boat hung over the urinals (the work of the owner’s daughter?). Most of the facilities were working, though one of the toilets sounded like it had been running for the last three weeks. The disinfectant aroma was mild, with light ammonia high notes and a tangy bleach finish. Someone had actually cleaned this place in the last few weeks. The absence of paper towel or an air dryer was the only factor keeping the Gas and Save from earning the full “moderately scuzzy” five stars.

We’ll have more of these periodically, but for now I hope these few might help you in your decision-making as you travel across the highways of this land. Also coming soon: reviews of backstage snacks and catering, festival port-o-johns, and truck stop Chinese food.