If you scratch my back you can use my bathroom.
As I was walking to write in the cafe few windy evenings ago, I noticed several Starbucks garbage bags had blown into the busy street. They were all nearly bursting at the seams. The brown coffee dregs, sticky straws, cups, lids, soggy napkins and empty sugar packets were all tumbling in a mad dash down the street toward the East River. Annoyed and disgusted, I ran into the middle of Worth Street and picked up what remained of a severely wounded and once-full bag. It had already been hit by traffic a few times and was hemorrhaging its guts in the powerful late autumn wind. I threw it in a trash can and walked the half-block to the Starbucks from whence it hath been spawned.
Going inside I placed my order and asked for a wet napkin to wash my sticky hands. The barista asks why so I tell him about the above incident regarding hemorrhaging trash bags and their losing fight against the wheels of rush hour traffic and recommended he tell his manager to channel some inner Bob Seger and secure their trash against the wind. He blinked as if not understanding where I was coming from so I extrapolated a bit…
“The big bags from this cafe are blowing down the street because of the wind,” I confided in soft tones, so as not to alarm the other customers.
“And they’re getting hit by traffic.”
“So there are napkins and cups blowing down the street… “
“Maybe you should tell your manager.”
“Oh, yeah, ok. That’ll be $5.56.”
That was it. He didn’t thank me for keeping their trash from blowing down the street or notifying him of the problem. He didn’t tell his manager and none of the 5 employees on a very un-busy Saturday evening did anything to secure the trash bags. It was as if I had said nothing. I, however, wasn’t coming to Starbucks to teach a course in customer and public relations so I grabbed my drink and sat down to write, as usual.
As I am sitting there I of frequently many tourists and passersby enter the cafe looking for the restroom and are polite enough to ask the cashier upon entering. One such gentleman and his friends were German:
“Excuza me, may I utilize your bafroom.”
“No, you have to buy something, first.”
“Buy somepfing? I no understand.”
“You gotta make a purchase first.”
“For to use bafroom?”
And he left shaking his head, baffled because he wasn’t sure why he was being asked to purchase a thing he did not want or need so he could answer to nature’s most basic call. It must be different in Germany where you can presumably pee at any restaurant, bowling alley or car dealership that suits your fancy.
It is true that there were a lot of people asking to use the restroom that day. There is almost always a line at Starbucks for the bathroom. Busloads of people arrive to defile and destroy and make this particular bathroom nearly as unattractive and abused as is possible for a public restroom.
I know this is a policy at many restaurants and businesses in the United States, but why? And from whence it came? Maybe to keep people from overdosing on drugs, hiding from the police, making or having babies in there? Does the policy stem from the days of Prohibition when bootleggers would hide their hooch in the tanks of public toilets?
At most Starbucks in Manhattan there is almost always a line for the bathroom. And for the coffee. Same for the cream and sugar dispersary. Simultaneously. Everyone leaves a mess. Everywhere. It’s unavoidable. Fast-food-corporate-coffee promises to be a messy proposition. Period.
To remedy this issue I want to start a new coffee shop – Quid Pro Quo Coffee Co. – and people will required to go to the bathroom before you can buy anything – even if it’s just to wash your hands and do your make up.
It will be a public bathroom that sells coffee, basically. I bet Quid Pro Quo Coffee Co would kill it and all of it’s investors and board members would be satisfied and relieved.
But it will have to be a non-profit because all proceeds, after expenses, will go to keeping full trash bags from committing suicide in the middle of the street.
And Derek The Dog will be the mascot.