Blowing off steam about those useless hot-air hand dryers in the restrooms

May 13, 1999|By KEVN COWHERD

THERE ARE few things more annoying than visiting a public restroom these days, and for one reason in particular.

No, it's not because of those sexually ambiguous stick figures on the doors that make it hard to tell whether it's the men's room or the ladies' room.

And it's not because of the soap dispensers, which clog up about 10 seconds after they're installed and then, when you become impatient and pump them hard, shoot a violent stream of pink liquid all over your sleeve.

It's not even the creepy little man or woman stationed in the restrooms of fancy restaurants and hotels who turn on the water faucet for you and hand you a paper towel, and for this you're supposed to fork over a buck or two.

No, I'm talking about something even more annoying.

I'm talking about those stupid hot-air dryers for your hands.

The widespread use of hot-air hand dryers is something I could never understand.

Here we are, on the cusp of the New Millennium, right? We live in the most advanced technological society in the world.

We have super-computers that run entire cities. We have communications satellites that beam signals across galaxies. We have "smart" bombs that can travel 200 miles to their target, where they virtually open the door, shoot up 27 flights of stairs, enter a boardroom and explode in the third chair from the left.

And yet, in countless fast-food joints and Jiffy Lubes and interstate rest stops, we still dry our hands by holding them under a pitiful stream of hot air.

Or try to dry them, anyway.

I say try to because the basic drawback to these hot-air dryers -- and I hope I'm not getting too technical here -- is they flat-out don't work.

No, I take that back. They work fine -- if you have 20 minutes of your life to devote to drying your hands.

Because if you wash your hands like a normal human being -- which is to say you actually get them wet -- they will take an eternity to dry by this process.

Most people, of course, cannot handle this kind of a wait. We are a nation of borderline psychotics who want instant results. And when we don't get them, we become mean as wolverines.

So most people wave their wet hands under the dryer for about 10 seconds.

Then they dry their hands on their pants or their shirt.

And then they leave.

Why?

Because they have a life to get back to, that's why.

They don't have all day to stand in a dingy restroom that smells of Pine Sol and mildew and the viler odors of humanity, holding their hands under a stupid dryer that doesn't work.

The thing that gets me is: What kind of a message do you send your customers when you install a hot-air dryer in the restroom?

Here's the message I get whenever I'm forced to use one:

"Dear Customer: As you can see, we don't think you're important enough to merit a roll of paper towels. A roll of paper towels, bought in bulk, would cost us, what? A quarter? Fifteen cents?

"But you're not worth it. So go on, get out of here. Go back to your bucket of greasy chicken and fries, or your 14-point lube job, or your mind-numbing trip up the interstate dodging teen-age thugs doing 85 in their father's Lexus and amphetamine-crazed truckers and nuns poking along in the passing lane in their tired Chevy Cavaliers."

A gross over-reaction? The jittery response of an obvious paranoid?

Maybe. But that's the way I feel.

Here's the other thing about these stupid dryers: Do we really need the detailed set of instructions that so often accompany them?

Look, this is not a Boeing 747 we're operating here. It's a hot-air dryer.

I don't think you have to be on the staff of the Harvard Law Review in order to work a dryer without reading:

1. Press button.

2. Place wet hands under dryer.

3. Hold until dry.

Not to beat this to death, but in all my years of using public restrooms, I've never seen anyone step up to the hot-air dryer, gaze at it quizzically, and remark: "Whoa! What does this thing do?!"

Although there's a first time for everything, I suppose.

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