NPR logo

Arizona Hangs Up On Nature's Call

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/124390527/124391792" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Arizona Hangs Up On Nature's Call

Arizona Hangs Up On Nature's Call

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/124390527/124391792" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

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.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.