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Saturday, May 26, 2018
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Transparency a trend, even at Tampa hotel restrooms

Modern journalistic standards of objectivity prevent me from declaring an overt opinion on nearly anything, so instead, let me instead ask the reader this question: Would it alarm you to discover the walls of your shower stall are semi-transparent? How about if you discovered the wall between the men’s room and the women’s room at a trendy restaurant just wasn’t there?

Do I have your attention yet?

If so, good. If not, well, there’s lots of coverage of the Rays in the sports section.

For those who want to hear about the trend of “transparency” taken to new heights, I’d like you to keep this column in mind if you stay a night at the new and sparkling Epicurean or Aloft hotels, or have dinner at the upper-tier Eddie V’s restaurant. Because, the public bathroom might be more public than you’d think.

And while I’m at it, let’s ask if the trends of men’s skinny jeans and women’s high-waisted shorts just need to go away. Bikini thongs on the beach are one thing, but some of these shorts go well beyond “Daisy Dukes.”

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Let me back up a bit.

“Transparency” as a concept is outrageously popular in the business/consumer marketplace. People don’t just want to know what country their coffee beans come from. They want the back-story of the family thatwho picked them, photo included. People want to know the Latin biological name for the strain of active bacteria in their Greek yogurt. Johnson & Johnson has a new transparency initiative, in which parents who work in the company’s baby products division make videos of themselves doing crafts with their own kids. Awwww.

Before taking a ride on Lyft or Uber, you get a peek at the driver’s Facebook profile. In most cities, my feeling is the less known between the driver and the passenger, the better.

Anyway, back to the glass-wall bathrooms.

Many, many cultural eons ago (about 10 years) I visited a cocktail joint in New York called Bar89. Like most, it was sleek, modern and very hip. But this bar had a standout feature. Friends took me across Manhattan just to see it — a unisex bathroom with transparent glass stalls. The trick was, when you go inside the stall and latch the door, electronics in the lock then trigger the glass to turn opaque — like some kind of super-secret chamber in a spy movie.

It worked, most of the time. People tell me the real fun came when someone plastered out of his mind staggered into the potty and merely thought he latched the door correctly. Har, har, joke’s on you, drunk guy.

Alas, the psycho-architectural trend in NYC passed its zenith and the bar closed down. (Google still has tons of photos online if you want to see it.) But as with all cultural trends, NYC hipsters traveled into our country’s middle section and pollinated hipsters in places like Atlanta, Miami and Tampa.

Usually, that process takes a year or so, but social media is collapsing that window. What’s hot on Instagram or Vine in Tokyo, Brooklyn and Seoul at 10 a.m. is hip in Seminole Heights by lunchtime.

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Last autumn, the Epicurean hotel opened in South Tampa, and in the months before the opening, I toured a mock-up of a guest room. “Holy cow, dude!” I remember the Tribune photographer saying. “There’s a freakin’ clear window from the shower into the room.”

True enough, there was a plain glass “peek-a-boo” window about 10 inches wide between the shower stall and the room itself. Forget cable TV, apparently the hotel architects figured the real show was in the shower.

Well, I said to the hotel general manager, that’s something that will get people talking. He demurred, saying they might make the glass “semi-opaque.” Sure enough, when the Epicurean opened, the guest rooms had only semi-opaque peek-a-boo windows into the shower.

Lest you consider this a one-time aberration, the Aloft hotel just opened downtown, and it too has peek-a-boo shower windows between the bathrooms and the bedrooms.

During a pre-opening tour, I decided I needed photographic proof for readers and asked a PR friend of mine to step into the shower on her side, (fully clothed, mind you) while I took a photo of her hand against the window from my side. (I promised her complete anonymity. So, I say, thanks. You know who you are.)

Going for a romantic getaway at a hotel is one thing. I say tally-ho and happy hunting to that. But let’s say you just need to visit the restroom at a restaurant. Well, the Eddie V’s restaurant on Boy Scout Boulevard takes transparency to a new level.

As with most public bathrooms, the men’s and women’s rooms share a wall so one set of plumbing can serve both. Yet, when you step up to the wash basin on the men’s side, you may see the feet of women washing their hands on the other side. There. Is. No. Wall. Under. The. Sinks.

The women’s side even has what I’ll call an “eavesdropping couch,” where the ladies can sit and listen in on the dude’s locker-room chatter.

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Is this a bona fide trend?

A photographer at the Tribune informs me that Spain now has “public urinals” whereby men simply walk up on the sidewalk to a plastic wedge (like a Porta Potty cut in half) and let loose for all to see. Are there sinks attached? Are there photos online? Will I link to those photos in this article? The answers: No, yes, and no.

Yet, I wonder, is there some powerful cultural or socio-economic force (or disease) that’s manifesting itself in this new bathroom transparency? Is this a form of product transparency trend like with the coffee beans and yogurt bacteria names? Or are corporations merely trying a sexy/coquettish thing as a marketing ploy?

I asked Marian Berelowitz, a trend tracker with the advertising giant JWT in New York.

“I think we’ve had those wacky types of bathrooms in NYC restaurants for quite a while,” she said. “And I’ve seen those semi-opaque showers too, for a while. I like your theory, but I think it’s probably more of a sexy/coquettish thing.”

Honestly, I have mixed feelings about that answer.

On one hand, I track trends for a living, and the idea that I’ve mistaken a cultural blip for a cultural trend strikes me as deflating. On the other hand, this means the transparent bathroom trend may be reaching the end of its shelf life.

As for men’s skinny jeans and women’s high-waisted shorts, I will leave it up to the reader to decide if those trends need to go away. Despite any journalistic standards of objectivity, I suspect you know where I stand on that.

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