Despite Modern Developments, Sometimes Soap is Just Soap

Many baby boomers might remember the days of visiting a public restroom and washing our hands with a common bar of soap and using a common towel.  The practice is common in many parts of the world even now.  Here in America though, we are concerned with sharing germs … so out with the old, in with the new. BoomerCafé Co-Founder and Executive Editor Greg Dobbs muses whether small conveniences have gotten too complicated.

Am I just getting old or is my confusion common to the generations that follow ours too?


Greg Dobbs while hosting television coverage of a NASA shuttle launch.

Not long ago I went to a dinner at a country club. And although it’s a bit embarrassing to tell you precisely how it happened (let alone precisely where), I began to wonder whether the world is passing me by.

The trouble is, I’m not a member of this club and therefore — and please excuse the pun, which is purely accidental — I’m not a regular visitor to their Men’s Room. Which might explain the confusion.

Because when I went to wash my hands, I didn’t know how! Oh sure, I knew how to pull the handle toward me and initiate the flow of water, and I certainly knew how to place my hands under the faucet. Let me assure you, I’ve been around.

washing-hands-soap-jpgBut water alone won’t wash your hands clean. For that, you need soap. But nothing on the counter said soap. There were four plastic containers. One was labeled “Body Lotion,” another said “Mouthwash,” a third was “Body Wash,” and the last said “Deodorant.”

Oh, I know what you’re thinking right about now: “Did this guy just get bounced from the circus?” But honest, I had to use the process of elimination. I knew not to pour the mouthwash all over my hands, and was pretty sure the deodorant would only seal in the germs. Which meant I was down to just two candidates: body lotion and body wash. And since I know that body lotion soothes skin rather than washing it, I applied the body wash, and walked back to my table relatively confident that I could eat my dinner with clean hands, not to mention a clean conscience.

But whatever happened to good ol’ soap?

soap-bar_1I’ll tell you what happened, and it happened to me the very next morning on a layover between flights at the airport in Houston … and hardly for the first time! This time, there were no faucets, no valves, just electric eyes. But that morning the eyes were blind. So the water didn’t come … from three different sinks it didn’t come… until some other guy came waltzing up and put his hands under the faucet and like a miracle, the water poured forth. So I did a quick sidestep and got my hands under his flow the moment he stepped away.

But then the “soap” — as if we can say with any confidence that the watery white effluent flowing from those automatic dispensers in more and more public restrooms has any connection to soap — played the same trick. No soap. So soaplessly I went to the paper towel dispenser which… you saw it coming, didn’t you? … didn’t dispense.

Please tell me I’m not getting old. Please tell me it’s not just baby boomers and the generations even older who suffer these indignities! Please tell there’s still soap in our future. Somewhere.


  1. As with many things in life, it’s a matter of perspective. My 6 yr old son & I were in a restaurant mens room the other day and I noticed him waving his hands under the sink faucet and getting frustrated that no water was forthcoming. He looked over at me and said, “Dad, this sink’s broken. I can’t get the water to come out.” I showed him that he must lift the handle to get water to flow from the faucet. He looked at me as if to say … Gee, imagine that. Then he walked over to the towel dispenser & began waving his hands around, expecting a paper towel to come out. Again he looked to me for help. “You’ve gotta pull the handle, Son,” I told him. As we were exiting the mens room, he said, “I don’t like this place. Nothing works right.”

  2. Reminds me of the day, quite a number of years ago now, when my son was visiting. He came out of the powder room with an expression that let me know something Gross had happened.



    “You’ve got to get rid of that bar soap.”

    “Really? Why? It’s wonderful soap – it’s made from goat’s milk.”

    “It’s Gross to touch soap – who knows who’s touched it…”

    (ummm,,, me? your dad? auntie cass?)

    *confused shrug* “But soap is, by its nature, Clean.”

    “Get some liquid soap – it’s cheap and it’s way more sanitary.”

    And, so, I did buy liquid soap. Now, when he visits, I quietly giggle to myself because, “Who Knows” who’s been touching that Dispenser. heh-heh…

  3. The first time that happened to me I wondered if I was on Candid Camera & began looking around the mens room for Allen Funt. Yes, yes, I know … I MUST be old if I remember that show. I’m just sayin’….

  4. Greg,
    Someone decided that soap is too messy and allegedly dries out your skin. My favorite is the completely touchless restroom–the liquid soap is automatic, along with the water, the hand dryer and even the door. So, you touch nothing. Over the top? I think so. I keep reading all these reports that we need some germs in our lives.

  5. I laughed out loud. You have too because its so true. I live with a large package of baby wipes and toilet paper in my purse. When you travel around Latin America you learn quickly to carry your own supplies and even to clean up first before you use the facilities.

    And still we love to travel…

    Thanks for the smile. 🙂

  6. It’s commonplace in Europe for a place to wash just have a bar of soap, hot running water and a cloth towel. I don’t believe the plague was transmitted that way.

    Just wish we had video of you, Greg, trying to figure it out.

  7. Ha ha ha! I thought that I was an uncoordinated misfit when the same thing happened to me the first time (yes, there have been many times since!). But then I noticed other guys having the same problem, most of them younger than me, so I didn’t feel so all alone 🙂
    It seems every “touchless automatic” system is different and they are almost always fickle. It takes a patient, determined approach to figure out the “sweet spot” to trigger the electric eye and guess on the length of time delay before it actually activates the water and/or soap.
    It seems that the more eco-friendly and cost effective things become, the more complicated, fickle and unreliable they are. Like you, I miss the old reliable “low-tech” gadgets.
    We should start a conversation about our favorite low-tech gizmos; it could prove to be interesting, albeit somewhat nostalgic.

  8. Very funny, Greg, and one would laugh more heartily if it weren’t depressingly true: soap has gone, vanished even over here in Europe! Simple things are systematically under-rated in order to introduce more sophisticated stuff…that doesn’t work! What’s true for soap is true for so many other things, like handles to pull down car windows…It all works fine until the electricity goes, then it’s back to the Middle Ages!

    The younger generations are so used to all the tricky stuff they think it’s normal… It’s up to us Boomers to rebel and ask for common sense to be restored!

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