Jury of pee-ers rates spiffy biffies

Gerard Young Times Colonist August 20, 2004

You're out walking or driving when nature suddenly calls.

At the first place you zip into, you learn too late that there is no toilet paper or the bowl is blocked, flooded or unflushed. Soap might be missing, or caked all over the vanity.

Vexing public washroom experiences have led to the creation of www.thebathroomdiaries.com, an American-based Web site that rates loos around the world.

Whether it is an unhurried sit-down or bladder-bursting emergency, the Web site can prepare you for your next unexpected call when you're away from home.

Several of Victoria's best public washrooms are listed as well as at least one that rates poorly.

Mary Ann Racin, a married mother of two girls, is the brains behind the site, which she developed as a way to earn income, learn Web design and stay at home with the kids.

And her bathroom?

"That's the sad irony," said Racin, who lives in Lynchburg, Virginia about three hours south of Washington, D.C. "My bathroom is not all it could be. It is clean but we are renovating an old house."

She was in Paris five years ago with a three-year-old and pregnant with her youngest. She was less than impressed by some facilities, which often were no more than holes in the ground.

"I'd like to know beforehand, especially with children," said Racin, a former International Monetary Fund researcher and Wellesley College graduate with a master's from New York University.

She figures she has about 9,000 entries on bathrooms around the globe. Racin once accepted most entries but has learned to screen out the frivolous ones.

Sorry, she said, but no one except you, cares about the bathroom in your home.

The Web site ranks the Ocean Pointe Resort and Spa in the Songhees as excellent, describing it as "clean, safe, with handicap access and changing table, and aesthetically special."

"I think (the rating) is great," Ocean Pointe general manager Dale Dyck said with a laugh.

Though he got a chuckle over the Web site and had not heard about it until informed by a reporter, he said his washrooms are serious business.

"When I go to a restaurant I judge a property by the state of the washrooms," Dyck said. "It is as big a priority (here) as the rest of our facilities."

As long as non-guests do not make a mess or cause a problem, they are welcome to use Ocean Pointe washrooms, he said.

Not so at the Union Club on Gordon Street. Club bylaws allow use of facilities only by members and guests, said assistant general manager Atli Crane. Club staff generally direct non-members to nearby Tourism Victoria, Hugo's or another club or restaurant in the area, he said.

Crane also had not heard about the Web site, but once he checked into it he suggested its evaluation of his club is outdated.

"This is a really ritzy place and normally they only let in members," the site comments about the private club that until the 1990s was a men's only establishment. "However, if you stride in confidently and turn to the left no one will stop you." Not so, Crane said, explaining that security scrutinizes who uses the washrooms.

Washrooms at the Inner Harbour also have an "excellent" rating. The Empress hotel and Eaton Centre are rated "good."

But a spot near UVic is much lower in the loo listings. The facility is described only as down the hill from UVic in Cadboro Bay, behind the corner store.

"This is actually a wall next to a parking lot. When guys get out of the neighbourhood pub down the block and are making their way back to the university, this is a good place to stop in an emergency," says a description on the Web site.

"Note: Stand on the parking curbs or you will get pee all over your shoes."
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