I guess you can say Darla and I enjoy travelin’ right much. We have driven across the United States several times. She joined me on a trip across southern India too. I have also traveled around part of the Southern U.K. as well as New South Wales, Australia, and Guadalajara, Mexico but I did them on business without Darla. I get around alright for a country boy, and for the most part, I have found folks are very similar. We all love our families and want to be treated with respect.
However, I have found when it comes to bathroom facilities, and the people who use those facilities, experiences and preferences vary. Take for instance, the difference between Western toilets and Eastern toilets. Now here in the west, we have ours built for comfortable seatin’. There are seats for youngins, folks that are tall, those who have gone stiff in the knees, and even the bidet. In fact, bidets have started to get so down right popular you can buy them at the Home Depot and simply add them to your toilet. Just make sure you let your company know that it ain’t a water fountain.
In the far east, the Japanese have become famous for their bathroom fixtures. They also use bidets, but it’s very high tech. Their toilets over there are known for keeping you warm, clean, and fresh. Some even have music hooked up to them. I reckon a fella could find himself fallin’ asleep on the toilet if he ain’t too careful. I guess you could say I was used to indoor plumbin’ in every place I have traveled or thought about travelin’. Although as a young man I did have an occasion to use an outhouse or two.
Now for the first two weeks I was in India to work, and so Darla wasn’t with me. Sometimes, without Darla, I miss the forest for the trees. In this case the bidet for the garden hose. Over in India you have three kinds of bathrooms. The first is what folks around here call the European toilet. These “regular” type toilets are in most of the major hotels where westerners stay. The second kind looks like a toilet seat sittin’ on the floor with a hole in the middle. This is what the local folks prefer. Finally, when you get out in the country, the fellas just go wherever and whenever they please. It can be sort of a shockin’ sight the first time you see it. After a half a day, it don’t seem no different than Wobbly stoppin’ by a tree. Darla noted later that she never saw the women in countryside usin’ the bathroom. I reckon they must only go at night when folks are asleep. That seems like a mighty hard way to live.
I had educated myself on this topic a lot on account of havin’ friends who have been missionaries. I had been warned to make sure there was toilet paper, and there normally was. However, after spendin’ a few days over there you begin to understand why a billion people find toilet paper environmentally unfriendly. The hotel staff had mentioned the bathrooms had bidets, and I was determined to do the right thing for India and the environment and use mine. Unfortunately, I was assumin’ they meant the bathrooms had those fountains with warm water and soothin’ music like Japan. When I could not find that I started askin’ around.
It turns out, the hose that I found hangin’ on the wall was their version of a bidet. Now not meanin’ no disrespect on account of it ain’t my house, but I honestly thought the hose and nozzle were used to clean the bathroom itself. It hung off to the side on the wall, and it looked like one of those hoses and nozzles we use in our sinks here in the U.S. The other reason I assumed it was used for this was due to housekeepin’. When they left, and I went straight into the bathroom, I found water all over the place, and there was a drain in the floor. I just assumed they were hosin’ things down like we used to do the milk barn when I was a kid. I saw the same thing happen at the office bathroom I was in over there. The cleanin’ crew locked down the bathrooms every hour, and when you walked back in there was water everywhere, but it appeared clean.
Of course, I wasn’t content to let this sort of thing just slip on past me. I was goin’ to be visitin’ their country for a month, and I wanted to be sure and do the right thing by folks there. I was sure I was just missin’ somethin’. Everything over there was a far sight different from home.
Even their architecture was a sight to see. This office they had us workin’ in was downright amazin’. Half of it was indoors and half of it was outdoors. You would exit this tiny elevator, and be walkin’ down this balcony. When you looked up you saw blue sky, but you were still in the office! Now where they kept their computers and such had roofs, but I ain’t seen too many buildin’s that could include the outdoors as seamless as India. Shoot, our barns can’t do as good, and we build them for indoor and outdoor use.
So, I’m walkin’ down one of these outdoor hallways with my co-worker Kumar. I have to admit, I’m feelin’ pretty ignorant and embarrassed given it is the third day in the country and I still have no idea how to use their toilets. As we are walkin’ to a classroom I gently ask Kumar, “Hey, I was told y’all have bidets in your hotels, but I can’t find mine.”
He stops us and looks at me with a smile that tells me he has been asked this before. I am prayin’ he ain’t a prankster like me. “Oh, did you not see the hose on the wall?” he asked.
Of course, as soon as he asked me this I felt like a real idiot because I had been commentin’ to Darla on email for the first two days about how they wash the bathrooms over there. I decide to go ahead and ask him the obvious question, although I know his answer. “Those are the bidet? To clean yourself with?”
He laughed a little, bobbed his head, and said, “Yes.” Over yonder in India they sort of shake their head no to mean yes. It takes some gettin’ used to, but It’s a hoot when you learn to do it yourself, come back home, and people have no idea why you look like you are sayin’ no with your head and tellin’ them yes with your mouth. Anyway, I decide when I get back to the hotel I am goin’ to use this device and help India’s environment like a good visitor.
So, I get back to the hotel, and the moment arrives that I can finally use the bidet on the wall. Well, I can only say things did not work out as I planned. To be fair, it ain’t that easy. You really don’t want it touchin your body. From behind aiming is sort of opposite from the direction you are thinkin’, like backin’ up a trailer. From underneath the water falls across your hand and that’s just too disgustin’ for any more words here. Needless to say, tryin’ to find a good angle resulted in my hosin’ down that bathroom more than hosin’ myself. Well, except for my clothes, they got hosed down right nice. The end of that adventure got my clothes sent to the cleaners. Although I felt bad doin’ it, I had to go back to good ol’ toilet paper. Well, after that dried out too.
A couple of days after Darla got there we took a train partway across southern India. It was called the Southern Express. We had first class tickets, on account of things bein’ so inexpensive thanks to the exchange rate. I have to be honest on this one. I think the train car was first class on account of it having sealed windows, air conditioning, and then backup fans for when the air conditioner could not keep up. The seats sort of reminded me of what you’d see on a school bus here. The folks runnin’ the train made up for that though. The service was outstanding. All the people over there are right nice, everyone we met anyway.
So, we’re travelin’ along our five-hour ride, and of course I need to get rid of some tea I drank earlier that mornin’. Now I assumed the bathroom would be “European”, as they called ‘em, since it was first class. When I got to the bathroom I found out I was mistaken. There was a toilet lookin’ seat, and lookin’ through the hole I could see the railroad ties zoomin’ by. I reckon not too many kids play on the train tracks over there. I also noticed there was not any hose, not that I needed one for why I was there.
Now that worried me on account of there being two choices over yonder for bathroom hygiene. One is the hose. The second choice instead of a hose or toilet paper is the left hand. I reckon there aren’t any left-handed people in India. That’s why you always shake and eat with your right hand when you visit their country. Now that may sound a bit gross, but if you’ve ever been huntin’ or stuck out in a farm field and nature comes callin’ with no leaf litter in sight a fella will do what a fella has to do. So, it ain’t like it’s never been done anywhere else.
As I straddled this hole I figured it couldn’t be no harder hittin’ it than the games we used to play in the bathrooms as kids. Of course, my mother did fuss at me for missin’, so it might not be as easy as all that. Anyway, everything was going pretty good. I was at least missin’ my pants leg, and that really was what I was worried about the most. Of course, then the train started around a curve and the car started to lurch a bit. By instinct I grabbed the pipes since there were no hand rails to speak of. Although I did not see anything, I knew that was probably not a good move. I must’ve used almost a full bottle of the alcohol hand cleaner when I got back to my seat.
Well, a little bit later Darla has to go. I warn her about my adventure and ask her if she thinks she thinks she can hold it for the last two hours. Darla gives me one of those looks that makes a fella feel stupid for bein’ a man. She gets up and starts down the opposite direction of the bathroom. “Hey, I holler, the bathroom is up yonder.”
She just gives me her cute condescending smile and says, “Trust me.”
She’s gone for a while, and I’m hopin’ she hasn’t fallen off the train. All of a sudden, from up behind me there she is. As she is sittin’ down I’m pullin’ out antiseptic, alcohol hand cleaner, and a clean towel from our carry on, but she just takes a small amount of hand cleaner and says she’s good.
“Did you find another bathroom that actually has a sink?” I asked her.
She gave me another one of her smiles and said, “I found the European bathroom.”
I just shake my head. I did not have to go one more time the entire trip, and I have to be honest, I felt a bit cheated not gettin’ to use the other bathroom.
Now you may be thinkin’ at this point in my story, “Lucius, that’s a pretty traumatic bathroom adventure,” and I would say you are correct. However, we have had two incidents here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. One I rank on par with our trip halfway around the world, and the other I believe takes first place above all of this.
Now Darla’s folks live out west near Albuquerque, New Mexico. No disrespect to the folks out there, but there ain’t nothin’ in New Mexico if you’re drivin’ I-40. Now, I know that will offend some folks, and I have had some conversations about my opinions, but you need to understand, I like the color green when it comes to the outdoors. New Mexico along I-40 is best described as brown with patches of yellow. Now, northern New Mexico is beautiful. You’ll see right much if you go up into Northern New Mexico towards Colorado. Towns like Santa Fe and Taos are worth the drive to visit. Unfortunately, my in-laws live east of Albuquerque on the only green mountain in the area, and it ain’t all green.
So, I try to make an annual drive out there every three to five years. We prefer drivin’ because it allows Darla and I to enjoy seein’ the different states, meetin’ new folks, and enjoyin’ the scenery. In our younger days we used to just drive straight through Arkansas without stoppin’. We did this because Tennessee is one of the longest states to drive across, and Arkansas isn’t that far across. However, as we have gotten older we need to stop more, and so we found ourselves for the first time in an Arkansas rest area a few years ago. I go walkin’ into the men’s room. It has the usual non-descript off white tiling on the walls, and even the floors. I notice three stainless steel sinks as I’m walkin’ to the stalls. They look familiar, but I think they’re unusual because most places use white enamel. I just figure the décor is different on account of us crossin’ west of the Mississippi River. Then I walk into the stall.
There in front of me is a stainless-steel toilet, but it ain’t no ordinary stainless-steel toilet. I recognize it on account of it missin’ a seat, or rather the seat is built into a one piece bowl. I start to hyperventilate and have flashbacks of the county jail, and then I done forgot the reason I was even in the bathroom. So, I made a quick exit outside. I am breathin’ clean free air when Darla comes walkin’ out from the ladies room. “Did you notice the bathrooms? They remind me of that time you were in the county jail,” she said.
I just nod my head and that’s when she notices the sweat on my forehead and the fear in my eyes. I am expectin’ at least a little sympathy, but she doubles over, slaps her thighs and just starts hollerin’ laughin’.
“I’m glad you think it’s funny, woman. I can’t even use the bathroom.” Darla quit laughin’ on account of seein’ how heated I had gotten.
“Lucius,” she said in a stern voice. “You march your butt into that bathroom and do what you have to do. We need to get to my parents, and I don’t want to be late because we have to stop at some McDonalds just so you can pee.”
Needless to say, I felt just like a little child. So, I skulked on back into that bathroom, did what I had to do while the sound of the metal against water sent shivers down my spine. I skulked back out with my lower lip sticking out, and walked on back to my car like a man.
But none of these adventures, not a one, come close to Oklahoma and a Love’s Travel Stop. Now most fellas of my generation grew up learnin’ some simple rules about the bathroom.
The first rule is that you never look down if another fella is in the bathroom with you. Don’t worry, you won’t fall, we keep our floors clear so we don’t have to look down. The second rule, never speak to each other. Nobody wants to hear that you and your buddy are goin’ to have a pig pickin’ unless we are all invited. These seem simple enough to follow. They also should be simple enough to translate into other actions in the bathroom. For instance, talkin’ on a cellphone, or talkin’ to yourself would be included in being quiet.
Now if you travel, you know most truck stops cater to cars as well as truckers. They are great places to stop and use the bathroom, grab some food, and fuel. Most, but not all the time, the bathrooms are clean and large. So, we decided to pull off at a Love’s Travel Stop in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma. Darla goes her way and I go mine. To my surprise, there isn’t anyone in the men’s room. Now I was not worried, since it was a Sunday and later in the mornin’ when most folks are either in church or already on the road. I open the red stall door and go on inside. I’m happy to see the stalls are very private with actual walls between them. The urinals are on the opposite wall. The stall door has the normal cracks around, but nothing too bad.
I’m just about finished with things when this fella walks in. He is as lanky a man as I have ever seen. He looked to be around six-foot-tall, not counting the straw cowboy hat that seemed to shade his entire skinny body. He walks up to the urinal directly across from my stall. I’m about to get situated to leave when I see him do something unexpected.
He puts his hands up against the wall above his head like he’s gonna be frisked by the police. He appears to be lookin’ down at his sticks and berries and I’m thinkin’ that fella is gonna wet himself. Nothin’ is happenin’ and I’m beginin’ to wonder if he has a medical problem. All of a sudden, he starts singin’. Except, he ain’t singin’ words, or hummin a tune. He’s just sort of starts singing a tune like cowboys do in movies when they are alone on the prairie. Next thing I know, I hear his water works start up. Now at this point I think it must be his way with dealin’ of relievin’ himself at the urinal, except this fella keeps singin’ while lookin’ down at himself.
I don’t mind tellin’ you, by this point I’m feelin’ a bit nervous. I decide it’s probably best to stay behind my locked door and wait for him to leave. Even after the sound of runnin’ water stopped this fella just kept singin’. By this point I was feelin’ a bit panicked and prayed somebody else would be walkin’ in soon, but there wasn’t nobody else. He finally gets done with his tune, lets go of the wall, zips up, washes up, and walks out. I’m still not sure I want to leave the stall, but a minute later two more fellas come walkin’ in. Feelin’ a bit more secure I come on out, wash up, and get to my truck and Darla as fast as I can.
I have been privileged to see a lot of this world, meet a lot of great folks, and use a lot of bathrooms. You can believe me when I tell you I have many more adventures I could add in here, but then it would no longer be a short story. Even if I did add every story I have, there ain’t anybody, or any place, on the globe that will ever beat the singin’ cowboy at the Love’s Travel Stop.