Flush! For! Freedom!
July 25, 2018 4:34 PM   Subscribe

"We really didn’t know how to exercise political power, but we thought we’d have fun with it. And we didn’t like pay toilets." How four high school students created CEPTIA, the Committee to End Pay Toilets in America, and were instrumental in ending the burgeoning pay toilet industry in the mid-70s, and kicking off a few citywide bans in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and others. A few first-person accounts on Steve Froikin's blog: the networking, the song, "we never had a 'shit in'" [via]
posted by jessamyn (28 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
Nik-O-Lok and American Coil Lock Company, another stall-door lock manufacturer, argued that pay toilets “discourage drug addicts, homosexuals, muggers and just plain hippies from haunting public restrooms.”
It's a fascinating topic; I wonder how much of its success owed to the fact that many of the people inconvenienced were white businessmen. If pay toilets were mostly in fast-food restaurants and gas stations, I don't think it would've worked, but since airports and sports arenas were prime locations, they annoyed a whole lot of people who believed they shouldn't ever have to endure annoyances.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 4:44 PM on July 25, 2018 [12 favorites]


Business still wage war against poor people with their restroom policies.

Go into any lower income urban neighborhood and try to find a public place you can relieve yourself legally without making a purchase. There are libraries and the occasional civic building sure. But you may have to walk past a whole helluva lot of convenience stores without public restrooms (even though their stores from the same chain in tonier places have them), fast food restrooms that require a token, gas station restrooms where you have to buy something to get a key or get buzzed in all kinds of other insults to basic human decency before you get there.

It's all very clearly designed to deny poor and homeless people the right to go the restroom legally as a de facto way of keeping them out of commercial areas.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:13 PM on July 25, 2018 [18 favorites]


I'm glad there are no pay toilets, although I do like the ones they have in Europe, which are great when you're just wandering a city.

As a bit of a derail, the second link here (Whatever Happened to Pay Toilets) makes this claim:
The earliest pay toilets in history were erected in ancient Rome in 74 AD, during the rule of Vespasian, after a civil war greatly effected the Roman financial scene. His initiative was derided by his opponents, but his reply to them became famous: "Pecunia non olet," i.e. "money does not smell.”
Poppycock! It had nothing to do with pay toilets. It had to do with putting a tax on the urine collectors, who collected piss from public (and private) toilets because it was used to make a kind of ammonia for cleaning linens. If anything, in Rome they paid you to pee.
posted by dis_integration at 5:17 PM on July 25, 2018 [11 favorites]


Ya gotta admire a company that hasn't updated their website since 2003.

I saw Urinetown for the first time this summer. This whole thing is too close to the present political disaster.
posted by MtDewd at 5:18 PM on July 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


That Nik-O-Lok website is still frozen in amber. Today, the “Restrooms for Customers Only” sign cuts out the middleman and sells a lot of bottled water.

I remember the Nik-O-Loks at the only pay toilets I ever saw, at a huge public beach restroom overseas, many years ago. The doors were almost all swinging open, but I paid my coin, because I was a very anxious child who didn’t want to be accused of skipping out on a fee. If the fees were supposed to make them better maintained or cleaner, I could hardly tell. And was it a crime to hold open the door for the next person? The nervousness made it hard to get my money’s worth.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:23 PM on July 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


Given that pay toilets have mostly been replaced by nothing, I'm not sure this turned out to be a win in the long run.
posted by tobascodagama at 5:35 PM on July 25, 2018 [26 favorites]


Here I sit, broken-hearted
Paid a dime and only farted

posted by uncleozzy at 5:45 PM on July 25, 2018 [7 favorites]


well, from what i hear, some cities now have people just doing their stuff on the sidewalk

yay, progress
posted by pyramid termite at 5:46 PM on July 25, 2018 [6 favorites]


I distinctly remembering as a child crawling under the door to a stall in a public bathroom (in a Greyhound bus terminal I think) because I didn't have the coin to open it.

A little more recently, I remember being shocked by a bathroom attendant in Europe asking me whether I intended to piss or shit, because they cost differently.
posted by exogenous at 5:47 PM on July 25, 2018 [4 favorites]


Business still wage war against poor people with their restroom policies.

Well, and morons still wage war against everyone; the last time I lived in Portland they’d just locked up the public toilets in the local park, having put a sign on the door saying in effect “these are now shut because we can’t afford to keep replacing the fixtures every couple of weeks, so thank the vandals the next time you need to take a dump.”

...and having done bathroom duty as a fast food worker, I don’t blame low-margin stores from deciding they just don’t want the hassle of dealing with a public restroom. Tragedy Of The Commons, but with broken water lines, sinks ripped off the wall, and shit smeared on the mirrors.
posted by aramaic at 6:12 PM on July 25, 2018 [8 favorites]


well, from what i hear, some cities now have people just doing their stuff on the sidewalk

Yep and besides the fact that this sucks for the people it's also a public health mess. The book I am reading (in the via link) makes the argument that pay toilets were one of those "venal company finds a way to make a buck off of people who require their services" and there was an inherently sexist aspect to it because while stall toilets cost money, the urinals were free. And that gender roles being what they were (and still somewhat are) moms would be taking kids more places, kids who would need bathrooms, etc. The whole book is terrific and gets into more complex issues such as bathroom bills, gender normativity and bathroom policing and various attempts and improving public toilets. I've got an advanced reader's copy but highly suggest everyone read it when it's out if you're interested in things like this. In the meantime, the author has a twitter.
posted by jessamyn at 6:42 PM on July 25, 2018 [16 favorites]


Europe is still weird. There's a McDonald's in Austria that has a turnstile for the toilets and I think there's seriously more area dedicated to it than the restaurant.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:43 PM on July 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


Do you suppose WKRP in Cincinnati's "Fish Story" episode (the relevant clip starts at 8:38) had any effect on the pay toilet situation? I mean, you wouldn't want anyone who wasn't Herb Tarlek to be caught in that kind of bind.
posted by orange swan at 6:53 PM on July 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


I distinctly remembering as a child crawling under the door to a stall in a public bathroom (in a Greyhound bus terminal I think) because I didn't have the coin to open it.

I have a long-ago memory of my parents having me crawl under a stall door to open it for them once. I don't remember if it was because they didn't have money, or because the lock was broken. I thought it was fun, though I do hope someone thought to wash my hands after.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:20 PM on July 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


"The book I am reading (in the via link) makes the argument that pay toilets were one of those "venal company finds a way to make a buck off of people who require their services" and there was an inherently sexist aspect to it because while stall toilets cost money, the urinals were free. "

Yep. There was an article in the California Law Review written by a woman who got the law banning pay toilets in California public buildings passed that made exactly that case.

It was ancillarily involved in securing public accommodation access for trans people in California.
posted by klangklangston at 7:26 PM on July 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


*looks around room filled to the brim with books* well- looks like come September I’ll have to find room for one more! Also yeah speaking as a San Franciscan the lack of free public toilets is fucking criminal and possibly leading to hep A outbreaks, hopefully that’s something on our new mayor’s docket.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 7:31 PM on July 25, 2018


I have no idea how even a single pay toilet door went unbroken. They seem like an obvious target.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:57 PM on July 25, 2018 [3 favorites]


Noise and the stigma of hooliganism.
posted by clavdivs at 8:20 PM on July 25, 2018


i can't remember where it was (on this site somewhere, i think) someone said public restrooms get torn to shreds because there are so many, many people who are so powerless that that's literally the only change they can make to the world
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 8:26 PM on July 25, 2018 [4 favorites]


its end was its own elimination

I love a good poop joke.
posted by not_on_display at 8:56 PM on July 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


There are hundreds of toilets on every busy street, why can't you use even one? It's an industry ripe for Silicon Valley disruption. Imagine startups offering networks of safe, clean toilets run by contractors that you could use for a small fee, paid through your phone. The names are already there: Apple Pee, Poober, HP, IBM. You could have contractors paid through the app to keep the restrooms clean.

I'm accepting investments, $100m valuation, MeMail me.
posted by miyabo at 9:03 PM on July 25, 2018 [4 favorites]


In my experience (bar/restaurant industry) it's usually privileged people who break stuff in bathrooms. Things tend to get torn up on frat night, not the open mic or a random Tuesday. It's not an iron clad rule but definitely noticeable.
posted by axiom at 9:33 PM on July 25, 2018 [4 favorites]


I'm one of them "just plain hippies" and I am well known for cleaning up messes I find in public restrooms.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 11:03 PM on July 25, 2018 [3 favorites]


Miyabo, that already exists.

It's actually more dystopian than your idea, though. Instead of raising $100M to hire contractors to clean the toilets, they only raised $7M and are locking off existing retail bathrooms (saw one at a Peet's Coffee). Customers can ask the cashier for a QR code to unlock the door. Everyone else pays $2.99/day or $50/3 months via their smartphone app.

[real]
posted by ryanrs at 11:55 PM on July 25, 2018 [3 favorites]


It's an industry ripe for Silicon Valley disruption.

Got you covered.

But not in poop.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 1:46 AM on July 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


I remember that the toilets in the Hoboken New Jersey Transit station were dime stalls. When doing field trips, it was pretty common for all the girls to go at once - when there was no chaperone the first would climb under and then hold the stall door for the next girl. When there was a chaperone, they'd carry a roll of dimes, I suppose so as to not teach kids to break the law. I also recall clumbing under when traveling with my mother if neither of us had exact change on us.
posted by Karmakaze at 7:42 AM on July 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


Not entirely the same (and sorry if this is a total derail but it seemed helpful to drop it in...), but in terms of apps for using restrooms, at least there's something actually helpful to help trans people find places where it's safe to use the bathroom--all free--specifically mapping where you can find gender neutral bathrooms to use. Kinda sad that there's basically a modern day green book for trans people on the bathroom front but here we are. At least it comes in handy app form and can just be used in browser as well.

That aside... this thread is the first time I've heard of purely pay-for-use bathrooms, or at least the first I remember hearing of them. I think they were before my time and I also grew up in smaller communities. I was never in a larger city growing up, even through age 22 or so, and while I don't remember anything pay specific I do distinctly remember it was considered polite to purchase something before using them. But of course, it's also very possible I was completely blind to any classism there and it actually was mandatory, as I was part of a family who could afford to buy something if necessary and it was sort of drilled into me that manners stated I just should.

In fact, thinking back, that's a very likely possibility. Even gas stations along the highway or interstate we always made a purchase, and I do recall almost all of them that required a key (usually the ones outside, around the corner of the building) did require a purchase, and all required one if you wanted to avoid receiving a displeased look when you asked for the key unless you literally knew the person behind the counter (and they liked you--and as a 'nice midwestern white seemingly-straight-cis-girl' that wasn't exactly a big hurdle to get over, even with some strangers).

Even in free bathroom scenarios I have a guilt (and like Countess Elena said above the social anxiety doesn't hurt) when I don't buy something small. It's been very well drilled into me. So thank you for the article. Something I haven't really been exposed to, and great/thoughtful comments on a topic I didn't even really... well, I clearly knew about it, but I guess I didn't even think about how it was and still is in most ways A Thing. There's a reason I always end up coming back to Metafilter. Learning and thinking more about public bathrooms and the sexist/racist/classist implications involved in the management of them is admittedly a more unexpected one, albeit something I've been thinking about more from a gender-accessible standpoint lately. Thanks for the post (and quality comments)! also the info on piss collectors!
posted by nogoodverybad at 9:03 AM on July 26, 2018 [6 favorites]


In the meantime, here’s the Ballad of the Pay Toilet, the best I remember it:

I walked into the men’s room one day
And I went to the toilet but had to pay.
I reached in my pocket to search for a dime,
But nature was calling, I hadn’t much time.

I was standing there hoping somehow I’d get in
When along came a man with a big scary grin.
“What’s the matter?” he said, and I started to holler,
“I need a dime! All I have is a dollar!”

“I have a dime and I’m willing to trade.”
Did I have any choice? So the deal it was made.
I took the dime and I put it in the slit.
I sat down on the toilet and started to cry.


I almost want to end this song by turning it into a medley of it and "Shaving Cream", and I would also request that Meatbomb sing and record it. Because as I said before, I love a good poop joke.
posted by not_on_display at 8:54 PM on July 26, 2018


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