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November 21, 2006

Going in style

New York is a great city. To be more precise, it's 22.6% as great as it thinks it is, which is still unspeakably great. I know. I lived there for about 5 years.

One of New York's few failings is something you become painfully aware of if you're a visitor, or if you're a resident who happens to be away from your apartment and office. The public toilet situation there is grim. When I lived in New York in the 80s, I used to use department stores. It wasn't the greatest solution, because you'd have to dodge the perfume sprayers on the ground floor and hitch an elevator up to the top floor before you reached the facilities. Others -- too many of them -- favored the "self help" solution made popular by the folks attending certain unnamed ethnic parades. It was what male dogs would do along Fifth Avenue if they were poorly trained. Nowadays, of course, there's Starbucks. And Starbucks and Starbucks and Starbucks, on nearly every block.

I'm wondering now whether all of this will be a thing of the past. Charmin, the toilet paper people, as in "Please don't squeeze the Charmin," has opened a 20-stall facility in Times Square, to operate through December 31. (What happens after the ball drops on New Year's Eve is anyone's guess. My advice? Use it early that evening.)

The New York Times has the goods on this facility:

Charmin, which is part of Procter and Gamble, had broadcast the arrival of its Times Square “Potty Palooza” with a giant billboard above the entrance. The plan was widely reported last week.

A long escalator ride from the sidewalk takes people to a large waiting area furnished with flat-screen televisions, couches and a fireplace. Beyond are the bathrooms, numbered 1 through 20, each equipped with gleaming white porcelain sinks and, of course, Charmin toilet paper (six rolls per stall.)

Some are theme bathrooms, with wallpaper depicting Times Square, Wall Street and Grand Central Terminal. There are changing tables for children, and toilets equipped for people with disabilities.

The restroom complex, which is in a space formerly occupied by a bar, will be open from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., except on Christmas Day, when it will close at 6 p.m.
The Daily News adds:
Escalators brought people upstairs to more greeters and a waiting room with flat-screen TVs - they played only Charmin commercials - a fireplace, a kids' minidance floor and plush white couches. More workers escorted those with the urge to the numbered bathrooms, complete with white porcelain sinks, toilets and a light overhead that tells visitors when a stall is open.
And here's something that makes you wonder: "There will be about 30 workers hired to clean the stalls after each use, officials said." Just how sloppy can New Yorkers be if it takes 30 workers to clean up after each one?

So now it's time to vote: Gimmick or not gimmick? My guess is gimmick. Anything that impresses even Mayor Bloomberg has got to be a gimmick. ("'The mind boggles,' Mr. Bloomberg said when asked about the Times Square event during a news conference in the Bronx. 'The person that sold that is somebody I’d love to have come to work for my company.'")

I'll leave the last word to Brett Schumer, whose relationship (or not) to the senior senator from the state is not noted: "This is just another overhyped Times Square gimmick. I like the idea of a clean public rest room, but you don't need five people talking to you before and after you do your business." And that doesn't even count the drunks and psychotics.