Summer means road trips. And, unavoidably, rest areas. I have driven all over the Northeast, and after having sampled a goodly number of rest-area restrooms, what I want to know is this:

When did someone decide that we would be better served if our hygiene were automated?

Was it because not enough people were flushing the toilets at the Woodrow Wilson rest area on the New Jersey Turnpike? Were there naughty people in Vermont, vengefully turning on both the cold and hot faucets, and then bolting back to their Priuses?

Recently, I had the pleasure of once again experiencing the hellishly tedious round-trip drive to Connecticut, to meet up with my lovely mother, Louise, and perform the infamous “child exchange.” She had been entertaining Charles, and I needed to retrieve him, while simultaneously gifting her with his older sister, Ophelia.

It was a hot day, and Ophelia and I kicked off our 11-hour drive with a stop for iced coffee. Clearly not the smartest beverage choice, because by the onset of hour No. 3, we were making our second pit stop.

After using the facilities, Ophelia and I met in front of a bank of white porcelain sinks. When she found me, I was already in the throes of my usual automated sink dance, waving my arms in a style reminiscent of Keith Lockhart as he conducts the Boston Pops. Or someone who had flunked out of mime school. As I stood there, trying unsuccessfully to make water spew from the faucet in front of me, and then going sink to sink, in a desperate attempt to get the soap suds off of my hands, Ophelia walked over to me, and with a look of utter disdain, said dryly, “Umm. Mom. Do you need some help with that?”

Of course, just as my charmingly sarcastic daughter uttered those words, water came shooting out of the faucet like a geyser at Yosemite. Only to predictably and abruptly stop once again, forcing me to repeat the hand-waiving process until I had extracted a quantity of water sufficient to wash off all of the foamy soap.

And don’t even get me started on the automatic toilets. Now, I know there is usually a button that you can push to flush the toilet manually, if the automated flushing feature fails. But much like the button that the president can push to launch a nuclear missile, this button obviously represents utter defeat, and should only be used in case of extreme emergency. It’s often red, to induce intimidation.

So you’ve just used the toilet. Two things will generally transpire at this point: a) the toilet will automatically flush before you’ve had the chance to reach a full standing position, causing you to either be sucked back down by its gravitational pull and/or leaving your underpants soggy from the spray created by the force of the water as it violently departs the bowl, or b) you will stand up, get dressed, fix your hair, send a text message to a friend, compose a poem, and the toilet will still not have flushed. You will then do something resembling an aerobics routine, all in a sad attempt to convince your friend, the automated toilet, that it’s time to cooperate.

Good luck with that.

Assuming you’ve emerged victorious from the toilet situation, you must next navigate the sinks and towel dispensers. Or, worse yet, the driers. It’s the same old same old. More wild hand gesticulations, more orchestra conducting. If you’re lucky, you’ll end up with enough paper towels to dry adult-sized hands. Or you’ll get the air to blow – and hopefully not from a machine that dispenses it at a force equal to that of a rocket booster.

I know many of these devices are designed to save our natural resources and perhaps, save us from ourselves, but really, I was much happier when I had to push the toilet lever with my foot, to make it flush in a sanitary fashion. My thighs got a good workout. And at least my underwear stayed dry.

As usual, automated isn’t always better.

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No Sugar Added is Cape Elizabeth resident Sandi Amorello’s biweekly take on life, love, death, dating and single parenting. Get more of Sandi at or contact her at [email protected]