Sanikans. Porta-potties. The Seattle City Council once thought there was enough of a crisis for public bathrooms in Seattle to invest in a set of self-cleaning stainless steel units at $1 million per unit.
These became immediately popular with people looking for a place for quicky hook-ups and were a nightmare for nearby businesses. After they were removed, the portable toilets became a joke for locals and a symbol of the stupid ways our representatives can spend money.
A decade before this, I convinced the city to put a humble portable toilet in front of Operation Nightwatch. It was sort of tricky, since we were located on a very steep stretch of Wall Street at the time. The thing had to sit on skids that made it roughly level, but it sort of rocked around when a person entered, and nightmares of tipping over and being covered in . . . whatever would run through the mind of every user. So despite the presence of the toilet, the guys would continue to pee in the alley behind Nightwatch.
“Why?” I would ask them. “No one likes to go in the sanikan, because everyone knows you’re in there.” Ok, homeless guys with shy bladders. I get that.
Then I observed something which I could not fully explain. A kitchen worker from a high-end steak place across the street (“El Gouge-o”) came out in his dress whites and used the sanikan, in front of all the homeless guys waiting in line for a cup of soup and a shelter assignment.
Explain that, if you can. Didn’t want to disturb the dining room? Drug user? Nostalgic former Nightwatch patron?