Remember the days — long before the interstate highways — of traveling to grandma’s house on two-lane ribbons of asphalt?
The route wasn’t very direct, you slowed to a crawl every time you came to a small town or drove through a large city and, when nature called, some of the restrooms you were forced to use at gas stations along the way were often less than pleasant places to spend time. They sometimes were at gas stations where you had to track down a door key or wait your turn to get in, which wasn’t much fun when you had consumed one too many bottles of Dr. Pepper along the way.
Remember the condition of many of those restrooms? They were often small and dingy. Sometimes the ceiling light was burned out, and you felt your way around using the little daylight that slipped through a tiny, frosted glass window.
The toilets and urinals were often filthy. In worst cases there was no hot water or soap, and the cold water faucet had leaked for so long there was a rust mark below the drip, drip, dripping stream of water on the porcelain sink.
The white or pastel blue cotton towel-on-a-roll was wet to the touch; that’s because the roll had long ago come to its end and everyone with wet hands was using the same square foot of material to try and dry them.
The wastebasket, if there was one, was overflowing and scraps of toilet paper littered a dirty, sticky floor. Yuck!
There are still some potty pits out there being passed off as restrooms. But there are some tantalizing toilets, too, that you can use without first checking to see if your vaccinations are up to date.
Some of the more charming commodes can be found right here in Scott County! That’s right, among the top toilets for travelers are those at Iowa 80 Truckstop at the Walcott interchange along Interstate 80.
Restrooms at what is billed as the world’s largest truck stop even made the top 10 finalists in the “America’s Best Restroom” contest presented by Cincinnati-based Cintas Corp., a provider of restroom hygiene products and services and company uniforms.
Tens of thousands of people voted online prior to a July 31 deadline to determine a top five from among the 10 finalists.
Cintas started the contest in 2002 to recognize businesses that “place high value on hygiene and exceptional style in their public restrooms.”
Pleasant potties do, after all, make a difference to folks.
Like the contest’s Web site (bestrestroom.com) points out, “Think about it. When you walk into an exceptional restroom, you know it. The cleanliness, the style, the amenities – it’s unexpected, but certainly appreciated. It tells you that the organization that created this inviting atmosphere must really care about you.”
The 2008 contest attracted nominations from a wide cross-section of businesses, including restaurants, hotels and casinos. The top five in the voting were selected based on exceptional hygiene, style and open access to the public.
1. The Hermitage Hotel, Nashville. Tenn.
2. 21C Museum, Louisville, Ky.
3. Brio, Rockford, Ill.
4. The Signature Room at the 95th, Chicago, Ill.
5. Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Mass.
The remaining finalists, those placing sixth through 10th in the balloting, were El Monte Sagrado Living Resort and Spa in Taos, N.M.; Grand Central Terminal in New York, N.Y.; Jerome Bettis’ grille 36 in Pittsburgh, Pa.; The Montville Inn in Montville, N.J.; and the Iowa 80 Truckstop in Walcott.
This was the first year a truck stop made the top-10 list.
“We’re very excited,” says Iowa 80 marketing manager Heather DeBaillie. “We had no idea that people would think our restrooms were so wonderful. I mean, we try really hard, but had no idea.”
And try they do. Five thousand customers visit the huge, 200-acre complex each day. Many of those people use the Iowa 80 restrooms while there. It takes a 25-member housekeeping team to keep the restrooms and the showers for professional drivers in showcase condition.
“One of our claims to fame as well (as our restrooms) is our showers that we have for drivers,” DeBaillie says. “They are exceptionally clean, and we’re constantly getting positive comments about that.
“And we also try really hard to make sure that we have a nice, refreshing, yet interesting restroom for our customers to enjoy.”
Iowa 80 does, indeed, have some fancy flushers.
The men’s restrooms at the truck stop that never sleeps are themed to reflect service stations of the past, with custom tile and nostalgic gasoline and oil signs. The women’s restrooms are decorated in pink and display signs offering humorous advice and trivia on a variety of topics, like dieting and shopping. You leave Iowa 80 restrooms feeling good, not grimy.
“The important message here is, restroom hygiene matters — for good health and good business,” said Cintas senior marketing manager Keith Hartman in a news release pertaining to the contest. “Cintas is proud to honor The Hermitage Hotel, and we congratulate all of our participants this year.”
Copyright Oct. 2, 2008. This article has been submitted to The North Scott Press, Eldridge, Iowa.