Beth Underwood: An ongoing battle with public sinks and puffs of air — throwing in the proverbial towel

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I had a run-in with the bathroom sinks in a superstore the other day. It wasn’t pretty. It also wasn’t the first time something like this has happened. In fact, I’d guesstimate this was run-in number 17,483.

I reached my tipping point this time, though. Enough is enough, which brings me to today’s (semi) rhetorical questions. Am I the only one who’s pining for the days of old where public restrooms are concerned? The only one who’d prefer sinks with working handles capable of producing both hot and cold water? The only one who expects something more than a light puff of air with which to dry my hands?

But before you answer, here’s a look at what happened. 

The most recent debacle started as I approached the sink to wash my hands like a normal person. I waved my hand in front of the sink, waiting for the motion sensor to kick in and the water to turn on. No luck.

I waved my hand again, this time coming at the faucet from a new angle.

Still nothing.

I decided to step to another sink, which is when the first sink — the same sink that I’d practically been turning cartwheels for — turned on, but only for a nano-second. By the time I made the half-step back to the first sink, the water had cut off, which led to yet another round of hand-waving.

There I stood, waving my hands at a piece of metal like I was trying to hail a taxi. I waved over and around, under and in front of that stupid faucet for five minutes flat. I even backed up and tried a sneak attack. But the faucet ran dry.

I gotta tell ya, I was none-too-happy with this state of affairs. And while I realize the purpose of these magic sinks is two-fold: to save energy and reduce the spread of germs, I would be remiss if I didn’t offer this note to its inventors. If people can’t wash their hands, we’re not reducing the spread of germs, now, are we? Which reminds me, the best intentions mean nothing if the outcome is poor. But that’s a rant for another day.

Anyway, I started pondering the possibility that I was at the brunt of someone’s sick joke. That someone had set up hidden cameras in the superstore, watching and waiting for innocent hand-washers to attempt the mind-numbing feat of tripping the motion sensor. And what’s the only thing that could be worse than hidden cameras in a bathroom? Hidden cameras blocking the motion sensor.

At this point, it didn’t matter, because the pink foamy soap in my hands had started to dry. Which wouldn’t have been a problem, except there were no paper towels. Only a 1950s model hand dryer. You know the kind. The no-amount-of-briskly-rubbing-your-hands-together kind that you couldn’t coax a decent blast of air out of if your life depended on it. And let’s hope it never does. 

It was with this most recent discovery that I threw in the proverbial towel — proverbial, as you know, because there were no real towels to be had.

I wiped my soap-caked hands on the outside of my jeans, reached into my tote, and utilized my secret weapon. As I exited the ladies room with my head held high, I gave a nod to the sink. It may have won the battle, but as long as there’s hand sanitizer, I’ll win the war.

Beth Underwood is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines. She shares stories of everyday life that entertain, inspire, and encourage others. Her books include Gravity, a narrative nonfiction account of a small group of Tennessee National Guardsmen, and Talk Bourbon to Me, a lighthearted look at Kentucky’s native spirit. Drop her a line at beth@bethwrightunderwood.com, or visit her website at bethwrightunderwood.com.

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