Simon SaysSimon Says NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

If you're listening this morning while driving along one of Arizona's beautiful desert highways, you might want to go easy on the coffee. The state department of transportation has closed 13 of the state's 18 highway rest stops. The department's deeply in debt. It had already closed 12 field offices, cut 10 percent of its staff, and deferred $370 million in construction projects. And when winter storms struck, it cost another $4 million to clear the roads.

When you got to go, you got to go, but something had to give - the 13 rest stops, which cost about $300,000 each to maintain every year.

Some Arizonans are suspicious. Betty L. Roberts, of Sun City, told the New York Times: I honestly think they're setting us up because they want to do a tax increase. Connie Lucas of Pine, Arizona, asked: Why don't they charge a quarter or something?

Americans aren't used to paying as you go - if you please. New York outlawed pay toilets in the 1970s after it was sued for discriminating against women, who need to use a stall while men can stand. In 1990, a group of homeless people sued to insist on the right to free relief.

But pay toilets are as common in France as nuclear power plants, dog droppings and local cheese. Last summer, we got off a train in Paris with our two daughters, who were bursting after a long ride. I couldn't get them into a bathroom without paying four euros in coins. We needed to use a 10 to buy two fruit drinks for five euros, to get back enough change.

So I thunked those euros into the slot. I thought: That fruit juice is more expensive on the way out than on the way in.

When you get past the bathroom jokes, there is a fundamental question. Is government obliged to provide the traveling public with free restrooms? There are private options, of course, but many highway spots post signs saying customers only. They're running restaurants, after all, not airline terminals, and figure that a constant stream - poor choice of words I'll let stand - of restroom users overburdens their facilities.

Yet should a man or woman have to buy a Happy Meal just to answer nature's call?

A few other states, including Georgia, Vermont and Virginia, have closed public rest stops. But those are woodsy, hilly places with lots of nooks and crannies to offer a least a little camouflage.

Much of Arizona is a flat, magnificent moonscape. As one of our western listeners, Katie Stone, delicately reminds us, it's hard to find privacy in the desert.

(Soundbite of song, "Tumbling Tumbleweeds")

SONS OF THE PIONEERS: (Singing) I'll be rolling along, deep in my heart is a song. Here on the range I belong, drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweed...

SIMON: Sons of the Pioneers. You're listening to NPR News.

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Simon SaysSimon Says NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small