Graffiti (whether the restroom kind or others) sits on this weird junction between creation and vandalism, between anonymity and community. In this particular case, something undertaken primarily to reduce business expenses wound up making a space not just for alternative cultural expression, but for better—and self-improving—forms of community: “the clerk also told me that the men had cleaned up their language quite a bit in five years. The tone of their scribbles had changed from gross and inappropriate to polite and sincere.”

During a long road trip between California and Missouri, I stumbled on a gas station on Interstate 40 in Adrian, Texas, that had come up with an ingenious way of protecting the walls of their restrooms. In an effort to reduce the number of times the restrooms needed to be painted, someone came up with the idea to tape sheets of butcher block paper to the walls. The sheets were inside every stall and on the walls in both the men and women’s restrooms. On the top of each piece of torn white paper was written “Please tell us about your trip”. What followed on every sheet were stories about why people were traveling across the country. Some stories were sad, some were happy, some were angry. The whole gamut of emotions was posted on these sheets. (I wish I had a picture.)

The amazing thing was that the real white walls of the restroom were not defaced in any manner, not one piece of graffiti.  After asking at the checkout who came up with the idea, the clerk told me that, to clean up graffiti, the owners had been stuck with a painting the walls of the restrooms twice a year. Since they had put the butcher block paper up five years ago, they had never painted the restrooms.Yet they remained clean and sparkling white. Obviously, the management nudged the public for everyone’s benefit.

from “The best use for butcher block paper ever,” submitted by reader Margo Mueller, Nudges blog, 8 December 2008

Originally published at culture-making.com.

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