Relief on the run
Need a break during Bloomsday? Honey Bucket has the answer
As the clock ticks down to the start of next Sunday’s 38th annual Bloomsday, thousands of runners will be bouncing up and down.
Some are trying to loosen up or stay warm. Others are looking for their weird friend who always wears a Waldo hat on race day.
The rest are desperately searching for the shortest line to a portable toilet.
If they find relief, they have Brian Robinson to thank.
Robinson is route supervisor for Post Falls’ Honey Bucket. He and an army of drivers and volunteers begin setting out more than 250 restrooms along the 12-kilometer route the morning before the race.
Then early Bloomsday morning, they assemble more than a mile of fencing and close to another mile of shorter barricades for crowd control.
During a recent interview, Robinson discussed the evolution of the portable toilet, and why he loves his job.
S-R: Where did you grow up?
Robinson: In Belgium and North Idaho. My dad was in the military, and no matter what, he always made sure we came back to visit relatives and spend time in Idaho.
S-R: What career did you envision for yourself back then?
Robinson: I wanted to be a history teacher. That was my goal in life. But after enrolling at San Diego State, I quickly discovered teachers don’t make enough money.
S-R: What did you do?
Robinson: The America’s Cup was going on, so I got into fiberglassing and worked on boats. Then I decided to move back up here, and went to work fiberglassing for Dynamic Fabricators in Rathdrum. After 10 years I was ready for a change, so I tried working for Pawn 1 selling firearms, but that wasn’t really for me. Eight years ago I saw an ad in the paper saying North Cascade Honey Bucket was hiring drivers, and decided to give it a try.
S-R: When you applied, did you know what you were getting into?
Robinson: I thought it would be – pardon the pun – a crappy job. But I ended up loving it – driving around, meeting people. Everybody likes to talk, and I like to listen. And I love doing the events. I’ve got the best job in the world.
S-R: Besides Bloomsday, what events do you service?
Robinson: All the concerts out at the Gorge and at Northern Quest Casino. We also do Rock Hard at The Park in Post Falls and Paul Bunyan Days in St. Maries. The Spokane-to-Sandpoint Relay is really fun – you put down 100 toilets one day, pick them up the next day, and meet a lot of neat people.
S-R: How has the business evolved since you joined it in 2006?
Robinson: It seems to get busier every year. Construction is pretty much our bread and butter, and that keeps growing.
S-R: How else has the business evolved?
Robinson: We’re more high tech. Every truck is equipped with a satellite-linked computer. And we try to use environmentally friendly additives, like our food-grade scent mask, so if the toilet tips over, the chemicals aren’t going to kill anything.
S-R: What’s your busy season?
S-R: What’s your typical workday?
Robinson: Usually I’ll get our drivers ready to go at about 4 in the morning. Then I make deliveries and talk to customers until about 2 in the afternoon.
S-R: What are the logistics for Bloomsday?
Robinson: We start planning in March. We need 350 port-a-potties, 13 handicap toilets and two SROs – standing-room-only urinals inside a big circle that accommodate eight people.
S-R: Do you have enough toilets for Bloomsday in your inventory?
Robinson: We have over 2,000. What we need to bring in is fencing, because we’ve rented out so much of ours. We need 525 10-foot panels of fence for Bloomsday, plus 425 10-foot chunks of people barricades, which look like bike racks.
S-R: Can your regular crew handle Bloomsday?
Robinson: No, but we bring in volunteers from other Honey Buckets around the Northwest. People you haven’t seen in a year will fly over or drive over. It’s a popular get-together.
S-R: I heard that one year someone stole all the toilet paper in the Bloomsday toilets. What else goes wrong?
Robinson: Vandalism, of course – kids driving around the race course, pushing toilets over for fun.
S-R: Does that happen often?
Robinson: Every year. We just lift them back up and either clean them or replace them.
S-R: In general, how does Bloomsday differ from, say, a Gorge concert?
Robinson: Everything is already set up over there. Our crew just goes over to service the 600 toilets. I volunteer to go, too. I don’t get paid.
S-R: Do you get to listen to the concerts?
Robinson: Yeah, that’s the plus. But it’s not the performers I go for; it’s the people. Everybody’s having fun, they’re excited and there’s electricity in the air.
S-R: How much do portable restrooms cost?
Robinson: $1,000 or more.
S-R: What do they rent for?
Robinson: The average is about $79 a month.
S-R: Besides the Gorge and construction sites, do you have customers who rent toilets long term?
Robinson: We have a lot of people with remote properties. Some have been with Honey Bucket longer than I have.
S-R: They pay $79 a month for their temporary toilet?
Robinson: Some pay more, because they’re way out in the middle of nowhere. They may have campsites they use seasonally, but leave a toilet there year-round.
S-R: How have portable toilets evolved?
Robinson: They went from being made of fiberglass to a Rubbermaid-like plastic that’s cheaper, lighter and stronger. And they switched from wooden floors to plastic, which doesn’t break as easily. Today’s toilets are definitely tougher.
S-R: How would you improve their design?
Robinson: I’d make them wider. A lot of customers like to bring their tools or backpacks inside when they use them, and it would be nice if there was a little more room for them.
S-R: Are there common misconceptions about your business?
Robinson: Yes – that our employees smell like poop, and that it’s a really dirty job. It’s not. Everything is self-contained. You don’t touch any of the nasty stuff, and you get used to the smell.
S-R: Do you have to put up with a lot of lame jokes when people learn what you do?
Robinson: All the time.
S-R: Do you have to deal with graffiti?
Robinson: Lots during Hoopfest. Some during Bloomsday. We have an orange peel cleaner that takes it off, but it still takes time.
S-R: What advice would you offer people who use your product?
Robinson: “Be kind.”
S-R: What’s the career outlook in this field?
Robinson: There’s a lot of job security and opportunities for advancement. We’re constantly growing.
S-R: What do your drivers earn?
Robinson: I can’t discuss that.
S-R: Do they make more than history teachers?
Spokane freelance writer Michael Guilfoil can be reached via email at email@example.com.