Smile Politely

A Building, A Feeling, and A Latrine: Hellos and goodbyes

In this month’s column, we’ll say hello to a brand new building, and goodbye to two restrooms that have left us. Between that stuff is a feeling because that’s just how the column works folks, I don’t make the rules (I actually do make many of the rules… contingent on approval from my benevolent editor).

The ALL NEW Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Center

This striking bit of architecture is the newest building on the U of I campus. It’s the latest iteration of the Bruce Nesbitt African American Cultural Center, and I think it’s very cool.

Now, my disdain for big grey rectangles is well-documented, but I quite like this building for a number of reasons. First off, it’s not that big. I dunno how I’d feel about this design if it were 15 stories tall.

More importantly, even though this building clearly stands out from its neighbors, the exterior is mostly brick which links it to basically every other building on campus.

Now let’s talk about that brickwork. Here on the South side, you can see a pattern of many different colored bricks.

I think it looks pretty nice, and the lead architect has stated that the colors represent the many different racial backgrounds of students on campus. That’s rad. Certainly most of the buildings I review do not display that level of attention to detail and purpose.

The other notable brick detail is this texturing on the East and West ends.

I didn’t find an architect comment about this, but I personally think it makes the building look a little like a dragon, so I’m all for it.

I find this bold, modern design is really best displayed if you can compare it to the Delta Gamma sorority house in the background (a nice, but very traditional sort of building).

It’s not just a cool looking building, but appears to be an awesome place to hang out. There’s some nice picnic benches on the East side, and the big windows show off a very inviting interior.

VERDICT: This building was designed to get people’s attention and it sure got mine! You can learn more about the Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Center on their website, and read more about the new building itself in this News Gazoo article.

The INTENSE FEAR of Dropping my Keys Down this Manhole

*This image is from the Google Maps if you couldn’t tell from the watermark thingy

This might be the most niche Feeling I’ve yet written about, but it’s been happening to me a lot lately. Whenever I bike to downtown Urbana, I park in the nice new bike racks in front of Crane Alley/Blackbird. It’s the best bike parking in Urbana; centrally located, with generous space between each bike, and my favorite part of all: they replaced a car parking spot to install these. (As a firm proponent of cycling, I think all car parking spots should be converted into bike parking, and all cars should be immediately melted down and turned into friendly bike bells so they no longer pollute our mother Earth.)

However, there’s one glaring flaw with this bike rack. A number of the spaces straddle this completely open manhole. Every time I park there, even if I’m in the spot farthest from the hole, I am assaulted by visions of dropping my keys, bike lights, phone, hypothetical future wedding ring, winning lotto ticket, precious doubloons, and pack of orange Tic Tacs down that bottomless abyss. (You can only imagine how difficult it was for me to take this photo.)

I have to believe that some poor soul has already lost something very valuable down this cavernous maw.

VERDICT: For my own mental health, the City of Urbana should really replace this grated manhole cover with a solid one. That’s really all I’m asking.

The Restrooms in the Espresso Royale on Daniel Street (R.I.P.)

Since I’ve been writing about bathrooms roughly once a month for years now, it’s safe to say that I have some pretty strong opinions about them. One strong view I hold that I haven’t revealed here prior is that ALL SINGLE-OCCUPANCY RESTROOMS SHOULD BE GENDER-NEUTRAL. This seems like it would be pretty common sense for people. In addition to being far more inclusive for everyone, it’s also more efficient, leading to fewer lines for the loo. On a personal level it means more bathrooms would be available for me to review.

The Illinois House just recently passed a bill requiring that all single-occupancy restrooms in the state be gender-neutral. I really hope Pritzker gives the bill the green light.

A number of places in town are ahead of the curve already, and have been providing gender-neutral single-occupancy restrooms for years. The most notable of these are the restrooms in the Espresso Royale at Daniel and 6th, each of which had this message on the door:

If you hadn’t heard, that Espresso closed recently to make way for some new building on that block. Many people were saddened by the Espresso closing. A ton of folks on my own social media feeds were swapping stories of all the times they’d gone there to study for big tests,  meet friends and colleagues, or just generally loiter and consume stimulants as one does in a cozy coffee shop. I’m not here to do any of that reminiscing. I’m just here to document the passing of two very inclusive (and rather small) restrooms.

Instead of being divided by the harsh gender binary, there is one restroom for “People who enjoyed the movie Babe,” and the another restroom for “Armadillos.” Since every person is a bit of an armadillo sometimes, and every sentient being on this and all other planes of existence enjoy the movie Babe, both of these bathrooms are for everybody.

We’ll take a look at Babe bathroom first.

This restroom is quite compact… and also short. There was only about two inches between the top of my head and the ceiling. Not much to write about here honestly, a perfectly functional restroom for any good, upstanding person who enjoyed the movie Babe.

Armadillo bathroom has similarly short ceilings, but is somewhat more interesting. Inside there’s a small table. I always appreciate when restrooms have some place for me to put any stuff I might have. Much better than trying to balance my belongings on the narrow sink walls, or the back of the toilet.

There’s also a storage closet in this bathroom which contains… mostly light bulbs and paint.

I noticed that the fire sprinkler in this room is DIRECTLY ABOVE THE TOILET. Which made me think maybe, just maybe, if it went off while you were there on the can, you wouldn’t get wet at all, but the fires surrounding you would still be defeated. Might be an issue if the toilet itself is on fire though.

Anyway, the best part of this bathroom, other than the inclusivity, is the notes on the walls, many of which are heartfelt goodbyes to the Espresso Royale.

VERDICT: These two will be missed, but hopefully soon there will be a slew of new gender-neutral bathrooms for all to use!

That’s all for this month folks. If you’ve got buildings, feelings, or latrines you think I should highlight, leave a comment on the Smile Politely Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram posts for this column.

More Articles