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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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!