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The Toilets in Detroit Have Astonishingly Long Flushes

Most people in reasonable climates will mark the time between Spring and Summer with the explosion of local, colorful flora. As children in Florida, we marked it with the ominous hiss of mosquito-spray trucks cruising neighborhood streets and the arrival of complicated outdoor water-use restrictions. The latter was always a source of curiosity; the sort of law that one can easily or unknowingly break, feeling dangerous without fear of serious repercussion. You can always find a neighbor, shifty eyed and under cover of hazy dawn or dusk light, watering his lawn on the “wrong” day of the week. His is an even numbered address, required to sprinkle on Tuesdays and Saturdays, yet he stands in Wednesday morning slippers, fighting against nature and common sense to sprinkle his patch of functionless front-yard St. Augustine.

Florida’s fresh water system is a mess and every year, the aquifer drops a little lower. Local news anchors wrinkle their foreheads beneath bright red tele-banners that say WATER CRISIS 2005, which you understand to mean DEAR VIEWER, WE ARE DOOMED. Your Hyundai is filthy with unwashable summer dust. Op-Ed pages across the state furiously debate the merits and pitfalls of de-salinization plants. Mom calls to report that local gang activity is on the rise, something she will attribute to the inadvertent criminalization of the Slip-n-Slide. If these children were allowed to play with their Splatter Up, they wouldn’t need to steal my goddamn car stereo.

As a youth, the water-shortage culture programmed me with a heightened sensitivity to water use, which is why the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) disturbs me so deeply. My knowledge of Detroit and its Midwestern context is shallow, derived from John Hughes movies and the smattering of transplants I’ve befriended in Portland. I have, in all honesty, been to Detroit only once and it was by way of DTW. Everything I know about this place is gleaned from the airport, the rambling stories of drunks and several dozen non-consecutive viewings of Uncle Buck, a movie that’s set in Chicago.

Regardless, I had two hours to kill at DTW during a recent layover from Portland to Tampa, time that I lost mostly to the giant plasma televisions scattered throughout the newest terminal building. Quickly: These people adore their sports teams, especially the miserable ones, and have spared no expense in broadcasting their terrible and slightly less terrible exploits to every body that passes through DTW. More importantly: I’ve been a liberal Portland commie for too long now, because DTW was so obviously and willingly caught in an environmental time warp. Recycling bins were difficult to find and poorly labeled. Soda is served in Styrofoam cups, hot dogs in tiny Styrofoam coffins. And the toilets – the toilets at DTW have astonishingly long flushes. Let me explain with as little offensive detail as possible.

I flushed.

And the water rushed through the toilet with such force and volume that I froze in place as it, sitting so passively before me moments ago, actually created a breeze in the stall. Air rushed past me to join the water on its way into the abyss of the DTW sewer system and when it finally stopped, I straightened my hair, noticed a bit of graffiti reading “Life sucks – Suicide soon?,” and I flushed again. For science. The flush (by which I mean that moment when new water is rushing into the toilet to cleanse it, prior to filling it) lasted just shy of one minute, an eternity in the era of low-flow plumbing. Such volume is not justified by any janitorial savings that might be realized from it and I think you know what I mean by that, dontmakemespellitout.

You may not know that the great lakes of the United States host a remarkable twenty percent of the world’s fresh water supply. The state of Michigan has only recently begun to explore legislation that tightly regulates extraction of water from the groundwater and lake water supplies, with a serious eye towards conservation. Residents, businesses and golf course owners are just now starting to fight for the flow, understanding that Mark Twain was right when he drawled, “whiskey’s for drinking and water’s for fighting.” This sort of fighting, however, is good and right, because it will ultimately raise awareness and awaken the cakewalking populous. Change will be painful and slow but at least it will Be. Until that time comes though, I recommend that you travel through DTW to tremble and scoff at the most powerful of flushes.

And then flush it again, for science.

4 Responses to “The Toilets in Detroit Have Astonishingly Long Flushes”

  1. kate

    Such potty talk.

    I have a question. How is it that Sloan gets love and good-hearted yet teasing comments while I write about my children and get bad vibes and rudeness.

    What’s up with that?

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