Southern Comfort

Carol H’s Review: Trust this adventuresome and indomitable authoress to go where many dare not.  Read on as she unfurls tips on bathroom trips that you just may someday need… 

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All in a row

In Texas, a traveler welcomes the sight of a Buccee’s bathroom.  They are clean and abundant in their facilities and are actually famous for this.  Driving the highways across many states, the scouting becomes considerably trickier. Yet, traversing a trendy urban setting proves even more of a challenge than one might think.

Have you ever wondered what circumstances might prompt you to consider using the bathroom at the bus station, from my experience simply the worst-kept facilities on earth?  I have found myself in situations which have propelled me toward libraries, large hardware stores, airports, roadside gas stations, McDonalds and even outhouses, places where the peeing public might quietly slip in to indulge in a quiet sit-down (or stand up).  Using the bus station restroom, however, requires a situation of dire discomfort, causing the dilemma of whether or not I am willing to trade one dire discomfort for another.

Favorite indicator

I live in a touristy city, where going out in public requires the fortitude to “go” out in public.  Shops and restaurants in many popular areas post signs telling us that the restrooms in fashionable locations are for patrons only.  As I age, and my needs have become more urgent in their calls, I have acquired the skill of circumventing the patrons-only restriction.  Of course, I am a mostly-respectable-looking, sixty-something lady who can easily disguise herself as a normal customer in search of a bathroom, if done properly, to avoid suspicion.

First, I choose a very busy restaurant or store.  Employees will have much to engage their attention away from the bathrooms.  Then, if I can’t easily slip through the door and head on the path toward my salvation, I work on bringing in companions for cover.  In a restaurant, I’ll ask, with my recently recruited cohorts surrounding me, looking as if they are hungry and very much wanting to spend their money, where the restroom is located.  After I return, and it’s important to be after, I’ll ask how long is the wait.  On a busy day it might be 30 minutes to an hour.  We look unhappy about that because we want to sit outdoors and that is a much longer wait.  We apologize for our expediency and head out, our host so busy it is a relief to see us leave.

I feel I have perfected the ruse because no one has ever come running out to chastise me or ban me from their establishment for having used the facilities and failed to dine.  Since I am now reluctant to enter a restaurant during the pandemic, especially if it looks busy with many people waiting for limited seating, our excursions to attractive destinations have been diminished.  I look forward to the days when I can once again “cheat” the system.

16th Street

My casual sauntering toward the comfort stations in foreign locations has been deflected on a few occasions.  My husband and I were at a conference in Denver one October.  As our evening entertainment, we strolled down 16th Street, the avenue closed to traffic to accommodate dollar-spending tourists.  Many of these “for tourists” attractions also attract the homeless and restless likewise in need of an indoor place to take care of their needs, resulting in employees spending more time performing extra cleaning and shooing off people who are lending an air of untouristyness.  Accommodating all of the public results in costing these establishments in staff time and lost trade, I’ve been told.

The bathrooms in the trendy locales of 16th Street were locked up tighter than Tiffany’s.  I was obliged to ask for a key, announcing my needs to all in the immediate vicinity, and then staying to dine or drink.  There’s a bus station just off 16th Street, but being a more discerning traveler, I chose to wander into Starbuck’s, announcing myself as a patron by ordering a cup of tea and wondering aloud where the bathroom might be.  Of course, drinking a Starbuck’s quart-sized uber grande (or whatever) size cup of tea, just leads to more pressing potty needs down the line.  It’s a vicious cycle making you wish you had never left your hotel room. 

The Quintessential Guide

Being a hiker and backpacker, I have learned to be less picky than other women of my tender age when it comes down to using the hedges for my facility.  These days, in the greater outdoors of mountains and forests, one has other hazards to consider besides the cleanliness of the facilities or who is in there without a mask. While there are fewer people of unusual character to deal with than in an urban setting, more folks are moving about with a greater line of sight.  Privacy being of utmost importance, I have found it best to attempt any on-the-trail bathroom maneuvers with a pee buddy.  After scouting out the most amenable location, I ask my potty pal to keep an eye on the trail for potential onlookers.  A large rock or tree just off the trail, low-lying scrubby bushes or a small valley/crevice in which to secrete oneself are all ideal for avoiding being spotted by a large family of Mormons out for their daily constitutional while you are in the process of doing yours.  Just as importantly, one must consider one’s direct butt-hovering location.  Poison ivy, tickly grasses, rocks with potential splash-back, snakes, ticks, fragile ecosystem (please don’t eliminate close to water sources) must all be considered when choosing that ultimate location.

No place to hide!

Having done a great deal of my hiking in Texas, I learned early on that the perfect spot is an ideal and often, one must abandon the search and just make the best of it.  In Big Bend National Park, none of these handy hiding places exist.  On a stop during a rafting trip down the Rio Grande, I wandered off the trail as far as I was comfortable, accompanied by my friend (and pee buddy) Doris.  We parted ways to allow each other some privacy.  Mid-go (i.e. when stopping is not going to be easy) a man on horseback rode past with a look and a smile.  I would have dropped dead of embarrassment in any other location.  Sporting only a vestige of mortification, I finished up and called for Doris.  We giggled over our being spotted as we returned to our fellow rafters, never to see that man or his horse ever again.

Decisions, decisions

These days my husband and I go hiking together in the mountains here in western North Carolina.  Most trails provide perfect cover for letting it all hang out.  There is sometimes a porta-can or outhouse for this purpose and I am reluctantly grateful whenever we come across one of these questionable comfort stations.  At this juncture, a choice must be made–relief in a stinking waste hole or teetering on my haunches while I mindfully direct and rely on my scout to warn of intruders, be they wild beast or human.  I almost always opt for stink.  At my age, I long for a comfortable sit down but not if I have to wade through unspeakable conditions to get to it.  If it looks and smells like the sewers of Hell, I would prefer to take my chances with the bears and curious children rather than a potentially health-threatening miasma. 

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Travel during a world-wide pandemic adds extra zest to the quest whether one is meandering through a popular urban center or stopping by an adorable small-town attraction.   Public restrooms are sometimes questionable.  Hand-washing facilities may be non-existent.  Even if there’s a sink, you may not want to touch it.  Packing a quart of hand sanitizer in my backpack allows me to scrub to my elbows should I feel the need. I look for commercial enterprises which lack front door greeters yet have enough staff to keep out people who potentially forget to wash their hands, or leave syringes on the floor, or engage in other problematic behaviors.  For this reason, the bus station bathroom is always a last resort.

Only if you have to

Since moving to the urban setting of our trendy mountain burg, I have had ample time to scout out the cleanest, semi-restricted, reliably-open bathrooms which a non-patron may discretely use.  The best part of having me as your tour guide when you visit Asheville is that I “know where to go!”  There’s a lot of comfort in that knowledge.

Always looking out for you,

Cheryl

Guest Editor Carol H.  knows all the best potty words.  She is a thorough editor and suggester of much-needed clarifications.  We have recently made plans to go hiking together.  You couldn’t ask for a better pee buddy!

16 Comments

  1. Finally, someone has written about this. Truth be told, in the before times I was downtown often for events or just walks with friends. I compiled a mental list of best places to go when you have to go. (Of course, being a guy is easier. ) I even considered suggesting this topic to AVL Today but never bothered to follow up.

  2. Oh yes! Finding where to go is of utmost importance. I don’t go in the rough, because chances are, my clothing gets soiled. Those smelly outhouses are very scary, but when one has to go, one must. Hand sanitizer and small disinfectant pads secreted away in my purse/pocket, help to make the visit a bit more sanitary. And well, I now have a travel potty to use when a potty can’t be found. If interested, I will send you the link. (I purchased it for our NC July adventure that COVID killed.

  3. The worst used to be Monhegan Island where one could not use a restaurant facility unless you sat down for a leisurely lunch. Fortunately, they have added a public facility and you are not required to hold it until your boat returns in 4 hours. When traveling we make sure to mark reliable spots on our GPS. We have more pee spots on the GPS than good restaurants. Of course being a bear you all know where I go.

    • I still have fond memories of our trip to Monhegan. Can’t say the same for the boat ride back. Squirrel Island is another conundrum if you want to go out and see the fairy houses. I think the boat has a head, but I’m not sure I could handle a moving target in a small, enclosed swaying room.

  4. Seriously salient but clearly unpopular topic for discussion. I was reminded of the day when department stores had paid toilets. For a dime, one could relieve themselves or if you happened to be penniless preteen shoppers like my sister and I, you could also just peek under the door for absent legs and crawl your way to comfort. Still to this day, this is a cringe-worthy memory for both of us. I agree the great outdoors offers more sanitary options but I have been a victim of a midstream stinging nettle attack and that is no fun. As far as being out and about during Corona, like Maurice, I’ve compiled a mental list of “pandemic-sanctioned” facilities. I have to admit that I am personally very grateful that the Ingles store map is fairly unvarying for this reason.

  5. So can relate. I personally like one world brewing downtown.

  6. Nowadays, a lot of places aren’t allowing the use of barrooms, which is very difficult for my sixty plus bladder!

  7. My favorite outdoor relief memory is from a college canoeing trip. My pee buddy and I stepped off the path near our campsite and as we rose to pull up our pants a boy scout troop came into view (ours and theirs). My friend looked at me and quipped, “that’s something they won’t see again for a few years.”

  8. Cheryl, love this blog. Just want to share my expertise on this subject. Since moving to Asheville and hiking daily I have become adept at locating outdoor potty spots. I have to give Covid a shout out for raising me to expert level as indoor restrooms became unavailable. I know where the best porta potties are located, meaning the ones that are cleaned out regularly and always have TP. Because Asheville is blessed with many, many ,many trees there is an abundance of real outdoor potty spots. To use these you will need a spotter, biodegradable TP, pants that easily go down and up in case your spotter isn’t doing their job and quick release on your end, no pun intended.

    • You inspired this piece! As for TP, I bring some in my pocket and a baggie for bringing it out. Also, quick release is essential for the knees!

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