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Thursday, November 21, 2013

From Muni Bus to Shower: Toilet Exhibit Dreams Big

Posted By on Thu, Nov 21, 2013 at 12:15 PM

click to enlarge Wanna see something crazier? Put 'em in a bus. - DON LEWIS
  • Don Lewis
  • Wanna see something crazier? Put 'em in a bus.

Central Market has a rich history of serving as a toilet. But, today, toilets of a different sort were on display.

An exhibit of faux-fur, faux-brick, and faux-Giger Alien commodes were lined up on Market and Ninth. But these toilets were far too pretty to befoul. Instead, they were an art piece/publicity hook for Lava Mae.

World Toilet Day was actually two days ago -- but, hey, it's the thought that counts.

Lava Mae's founder, Doniece Sandoval, is on the precipice of pulling off a seemingly crazy idea: Retrofitting an obsolete Muni bus and converting it into a mobile shower and bathroom station. (You can make your own jokes about Muni vehicles serving as repositories of human effluvia).

"I saw this whole mobile food thing," says Sandoval, a former marketing and development professional who most recently served as chief external relations officer for Zero1. "If they put food on wheels, why not showers and toilets?"

Well, that sounds holistic.

And San Franciscans like holistic: Sandoval's group has raised nearly $225,000 toward converting four 20-year-old Muni Gillig diesel buses into rolling washrooms. This will cost an estimated $75,000 per bus, and she hopes to start serving San Francisco's unwashed with a single refurbished vehicle by April or May of next year.

Converting a bus into a washroom isn't something you do via a template. There's no IKEA kit for this. Instead, architect Brett Terpeluck is pondering how to install two bathrooms, complete with sinks, toilets, showers, a private changing area -- the works -- and do so while adhering to the Americans With Disabilities Act.

click to enlarge A 1993 Gillig bus of the sort that may soon be a mobile washroom - DON LEWIS
  • Don Lewis
  • A 1993 Gillig bus of the sort that may soon be a mobile washroom

Sandoval, meanwhile, says the rolling washroom nonprofit game is a growth industry. She's looking to hire all sorts of people to help run, and monitor, a shower shop. She estimates that, eventually, each bus could be used for 80 showers a day -- "though we'll start out much lower. We'll have to work out the kinks."

Alas, those who treated the buses like toilets when they were buses may well only do so with greater impunity now that they're toilets. That's what you hire staffers for.

With four buses up and running, perhaps by 2015, some 2,000 showers can be had per week. Assuming this concept comes off cleanly, untold numbers of homeless people -- and library patrons and Muni passengers and San Franciscans writ large -- will owe Sandoval a whiff of gratitude.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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