It's only been three weeks since a bathroom sting operation made U.S. Sen. Larry Craig a household name, but already Royal Zeno is sick of talking about it. "I don't know nothing about what goes on in no bathrooms," he says whenever asked about the infamous stall where the Republican Senator from Idaho was arrested. Unfortunately for Zeno, it doesn't look like the talk will stop anytime soon, as the shoeshine shop he's run for the last 45 years adjoins the newest tourist attraction Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport has to offer.
Since the Craig scandal first made headlines Aug. 27, the airport has been fielding requests for directions to the men's room in question. "I get the question daily," says Barb, a newsstand employee who declined to give her last name per her manager's request. "Normally they just want to know where it is," she says, "but one guy asked me to take a picture for him. It really has become quite the spectacle." Although men and women both show interest in the bathroom, Barb says, it's mostly the men who work up the nerve to ask for directions. "By the food court, next to the lottery stand," she tells them without batting an eyelash.
John Sheren, an airport information volunteer, says he had already been asked about the bathroom twice since he started his shift less than an hour before this reporter got to him. "People seem to have a weird fascination with it," he says. Indeed, sheets of toilet paper from the bathroom have apparently made their way for sale on eBay.
Frank and Lisa Smoot, a San Jose couple who missed their connecting flight to New Hampshire, thought they'd use the downtime afforded them to scope out the scene for themselves. "We're bored to death of sitting around the airport, so I thought we'd check it out," Frank says shortly after his wife snapped a digital photo of him giving a thumbs-up next to the bathroom sign. "It's just so bizarre to think that I can go stand next to where one of our 100 Senators met his political demise."
"I've heard from some of the guys that I work with that that kind of stuff goes on in bathrooms," says Megan Schlossmacher, a security screener, referring to the now infamous details of the incident. "But I couldn't believe it when it actually happened." She adds, "That's like a really, really busy bathroom, the one that he was in. It's right outside the security checkpoint, I use that women's bathroom all the time. I don't know about other people, but I was really surprised that he chose such a heavily trafficked area."
While tourists might take pleasure in commemorating their brush with celebrity, airport officials are not thrilled. "I understand the curiosity, but we're certainly not looking for any kind of special attention to the bathroom as a tourist attraction," says Pat Hogan, public affairs director for the Metropolitan Airports Commission. "We've had complaints from people who've said they've used it and women have walked into the men's restroom to take pictures. We can't have that."
"A lot of people who work at the airport are simply tired of this story," Hogan says. "While the curiosity of somebody who's just passing through the airport may be understandable, for the people who work here every day they frankly get tired of talking about it, hearing about it and answering questions about it."
Kevin Wasiluk, who sat outside the bathroom while waiting to catch a flight, says he first heard about the bathroom on the evening news. Wasiluk says he fully embraces the novelty of the situation. "It's pop history," he says. "No one's going to remember this in five years, so I'm going to get a picture while I still can."