It’s fast. It’s loud. It starts at the wave of a hand and stops in an instant. It goes by names like “The Xelerator.”
This is not a sports car, a motorized skateboard, a video game, or a stomach-dropping carnival ride. It’s the latest generation of an invention that for decades now has gladdened the hearts of janitors and annoyed many of the rest of us: the public restroom electric hand dryer.
The basic idea is simple enough: dry your hands with a gust of warm air instead of a paper towel. Neater, more convenient, and maybe even cheaper. The originals have been around long enough that everyone knows the routine: Push “on” button. Rub hands together under warm air. Turn hands to dry front and back. Become impatient with how long this is taking. Wipe hands on jeans. (Preferably your own; using someone else’s is poor restroom etiquette and can lead to unfortunate misunderstandings.) Leave restroom with the dryer still running and your hands still damp.
The whole process is so last century. Hence, enter the modern super-dryer: sleeker, faster, and presumably more effective. I wouldn’t know, personally, because I’ve never been able to allow one to finish drying my hands. The old ones were merely annoying. The new ones are terrifying.
First, there’s the noise. The second you get your hands close enough to turn the dryer on, it starts to scream like a jet engine revving up for takeoff. The normal instinctive reaction is to clap your hands over your ears. This stops the screaming—well, the machine’s screaming, at least—though it leaves you somewhat wet behind the ears. On the brighter side, wiping your hands on your hair does help to dry them.
If you are brave enough to leave your hands under the dryer in spite of the noise, you encounter something even more frightening. The gust of hurricane-force warm air actually makes your skin ripple. The skin on the back of your hand slides away from the blast as if it isn’t quite attached to your flesh. It looks like something out of a third-rate horror movie: “Restroom Zombies,” maybe, or “The Creature from the Black Loo.”
If you are eight years old, you may think this is the coolest thing since Grandma accidentally stuck her fingers together with superglue. If you are a few decades older than that, you may have already noticed places where your skin seems to be getting too loose for you. Having this peculiar phenomenon dramatically called to your attention by a screaming machine full of hot air is neither flattering nor appreciated.
I have to say, though, that the new hand dryers probably do conserve a great deal of energy. Oh, not because they are so efficiently designed, or so much faster, or shut off automatically. Because, after trying them once or twice, countless numbers of us will choose one of two alternative energy-saving solutions.
One: Wash hands. Dry them on jeans. Make a wide circle around hand dryer as you leave the restroom.
Two: Don’t wash hands at all. It’s a small sacrifice, after all, to save the planet. Not to mention your hearing and your serenity.