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Flush With Success


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THE $3,000 Japanese robotic toilets have finally arrived! That's right—when you walk up to Toto USA's Neorest 300 toilet, the lid automatically rises. When you finish making your deposit, the toilet automatically flushes and the lid smoothly closes at a snail's pace, eliminating the lid-slamming ruckus. No more arguments with your girlfriend about leaving the seat up. No more midnight splashdowns for the ladies. Leave it to the Japanese to come up with such an ingenious concept.

I first came in contact with Toto USA, the American manufacturer of Japanese ultra-high-end bathroom products, when I phoned up Lenora Campos, Toto's Director of Public Relations, a few years ago for a Metro cover story. Remember that one cover with the female model sitting on the toilet? That was it. So I just had to ambush Campos at the Pacific Coast Builders Association convention last week at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. She gave me the grand tour of Toto's new products and nearly blew up my email account with 15 megabytes of information and photos the next day.

That particular cover story concentrated mainly on high-tech toilets with bidets built into them that spray-wash your nether regions after the waste is eliminated. At the time, Los Altos Hardware was the only place in Silicon Valley that stocked the Neorest. Now you find Toto's products at Saratoga Plumbing Supply, Architectural Design Center and Cornelia's Fine Kitchens & Baths. If you want a $5,000 toilet for your six-bedroom estate, tell 'em I sent you.

Since I'm into anything twisted and Japanese, I had to mention in that article that minions of Japanese females were masturbating with the water spray apparatus. But now, Campos invited me to this convention in S.F. and explained that Toto has recently ventured into the entire bathroom business, not just toilets. They've got some pretty slick bathtubs, sinks and domestic urinals. With all the suburb PR schmaltz one could ask for, Toto USA hails the arrival of its robotic toilet as a "Coup de Loo."

While parading through the exhibit hall at the convention, I pondered a few things. Just hanging out at Moscone throughout the last decade, you really see how much the ever-expanding nature of that facility has dramatically transformed that part of San Francisco. There's been nothing but constant redevelopment in that part of South Market for the last 10 years. You can ask anyone.

Neighborhood restaurants are slammed day and night during a major convention. Delegates just pour into the area looking to max out their expense accounts in the eateries, the bars, the clubs and the theaters. The city understood this, so, whether you agree or not, they leveled some of the surrounding neighborhood to expand the place.

Which makes you wonder why San Jose voters ridiculously shot down that one initiative that would have paid for the convention center expansion by raising the hotel tax for out-of-town attendees—with not one dime coming from S.J. taxpayers. Allowing larger conventions would have elevated downtown businesses to unprecedented heights. It would have brought San Jose that much closer to being an actual destination city.

Meanwhile, the number of conventions we've lost to Moscone is endless. While standing there on the corner of Howard and Fourth, I gazed at folks setting up for the Apple Worldwide Developer's Conference in Moscone West, which is taking place as you read this—yet another gig we've lost to S.F. And what do we have to offer instead? A blue and white circus tent behind the convention center.

In the end, trade shows are like hanging out at airports. They're the greatest places to infiltrate hordes of folks who will be in a different part of the world a few days later. Massive potential exists for eavesdropping on other peoples' conversations. It's the same reason why airport bars are the best places to drink. If San Jose wants to be an international city, it needs more conventions. Plain and simple.

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From the June 8-14, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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