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When necessity leads to inadvertent crime

Any day now, after French authorities review street surveillance tapes, they might come to take me back to Europe to atone for my misdeeds.

The violations occurred this month on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Europe, which I had promised myself after getting my daughters through college and each on her own. Fran Ringle led the Bank Midwest group of 10 from Kansas and Missouri on a flight to Barcelona, Spain, where we boarded the Norwegian Jade cruise ship, our lodgings.

The boat took us to Monte Carlo, Monaco; Livorno, Civitavecchia and Naples, Italy; and Palma Majorca, Spain; then back to Barcelona. I took guided tours of Cannes and Nice in France; Pisa and the Leaning Tower, Rome, the Vatican, and Pompeii in Italy; and Barcelona, Palma and Valldemossa in Spain.

I found trouble in Cannes.

The tour guide led us from the bus across a square and past a McDonald's restaurant.

Yes, Mickey D's is one among many U.S. corporations whose fast-food stops litter Europe. Crowds speaking many different languages filled the places seeking what some people like me try to avoid.

I told two vacationing flight attendants about it. They said I should rethink my disdain for U.S. fast-food restaurants on foreign soil because they infuse American standards into communities that otherwise wouldn't provide them.

That includes customer service and public restrooms. The flight attendants had gone to see Pope Benedict XVI when he was in Barcelona that week and were saved by Burger King's toilets.

The Cannes tour guide walked us along old, narrow streets to places where merchants awaited and then she left us to wander and do what tourists do best — eat, drink and shop. I'm not a shopper, so I wandered the streets as others entered shops and cafes.

It wasn't long before I realized that I needed a public restroom. But to my surprise, there was no open can in Cannes.

Not even the nearby McDonald's could help me. All of the space was crowded with people at tables. I asked a man who was sweeping the streets for help, but I used what limited French I could remember from high school and college.

The French worker launched into a friendly dissertation pointing straight and then to the right, back straight and then left indicating I had blocks to go before finding relief. The only problem was I didn't understand a word.

Afterward I followed a California family from the tour group. They looked as if they had the same nature call need that I did. They went into the McDonald's and exited just as frustrated as I had been.

However, they were directed to a large white kiosk near the street. It could have been labeled a "pee-osk" because it was the Cannes version of a Port-a-Potty, only six times as large.

It was a one-holer for one person, per 50-cent euro coin. But two of the women entered. No doubt, street cameras recorded the violation.

When they were done, one woman opened the door. But before the other could finish washing her hands, the automated door started to close and would have locked the second woman inside.

But I grabbed the door and forced it back open. The family was grateful and told me I was welcomed to enjoy the public toilet on their coin.

I gladly accepted. But no sooner had I begun to use the facility a sensor must have picked up that I was in there without paying. So before I was done, the sliding door started to open to expose my crime to all of France.

Then the toilet began to retract, beginning a self-cleaning process. And a loud alarm sounded. Definitely, it was time for me to exit.

The tour bus came soon afterward, whisking away this lawbreaker. The experience left me with a new appreciation of the traveling treasures that I'd taken for granted in the greatest country on Earth.

Lewis W. Diuguid is a member of the Kansas City Star's editorial board.

© 2010 Kansas City Star

When necessity leads to inadvertent crime 11/26/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 1:24pm]
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