When I was growing up, the holy book in my family was not the bible, but a thin, dog-eared, self-published paperback titled, Where to Go When You Have to Go, a compendium of public toilets in Manhattan. It listed all the obvious places–train stations, libraries, department stores–as well as friendly restaurants and hotels, and also the obscure, like the Central Park Zoo and the Christian Science Reading Room. New York City was a pretty hard place to find a place to pee back then, and to quote from an article in the Times, which came out, not coincidently, on Saint Patrick’s Day–a day when hundreds of thousands of beer bloated tourists are careening through the streets begging for bathrooms–today “New York City is one of the most public bathroom resistant places in the world.” Strange indeed for a town that attracts fifty seven million tourists a year and has two hundred and twelve Starbucks in Manhattan alone, not all of which offer restrooms, not even to paying customers. Large European cities are far more understanding, even Paris, where you don’t even have to speak French to access their fully automatic and self cleaning street corner toilets.
On the day before the New York Times article appeared, there was a story in our own Cape Cod Times, reporting that the Cape Cod Economic Development Council advised the Barnstable County Board of Commissioners to close the one and only public toilet facility on the MidCape Highway Eastbound, the one between Exits Six and Seven, the one where Cape Codders always slow down in case there’s a lurking state trooper, the one that elicits the same conversation between parents and children in millions of cars every summer as they drive over the Sagamore Bridge. The conversation that goes something like this: “Can you make it to the Rest Area in Hyannis or do we have to stop so you can pee in the woods?”
According to the article, the Chairwoman of the council, advised the Commissioners to redirect the public toilet money to more grants. Not long ago, one of those very grants was given to the Cape Cod Commission for Smart Land Use Scenarios for Wastewater Planning, which begs the very question. Is peeing in the bushes really a Smart Land Use Scenario for Wastewater Planning? The article quotes her as describing the rest area as ‘gross and disgusting,’ to which I would pose another question, Compared to what?
Has anybody not had to hold a handkerchief over their noses as they waded into a putrid field of tissues and toilet paper when they stopped at one the useless parking areas along Route Six praying to find a place to relieve themselves?
Needless to say the alternative is pulling off the highway, sometimes quite a ways off, to find a McDonald’s or convenience store rest room to sneak into, or in the alternative, buy something you neither need or want. When I was commuting to Boston my back seat was littered with candy bars, newspapers, energy drinks, air fresheners, and maps that I didn’t want but had to buy in order to get access to the bathroom. Here’s a tip: On Exit Thirteen there’s a Gulf Station that sells bananas. They’re always rotten but they’re only a buck apiece.
Although the Board decided to table the issue for two weeks before telling the state that the County was “exit(ing) the bathroom maintenance business,” one nitwit commissioner proposed leasing the property to a Dunkin Donuts. Brilliant. So now we can fill our bladder with coffee in the spot where we used to drain it.
On it’s website the Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment says it’s mission is to promote a healthy community through disease prevention and environmental protection. Well, somebody ought to tell the commissioners that denying people a public place to take a leak contributes to urinary tract infection, cystitis, and kidney failure. That spending billions on water quality management runs contrary to forcing people to pee but the woods.
Sure, we can get off Route Six. There are even apps for that. Sit or Squat. Where to Wee. Bathroom Scout. They all check your GPS and send you down local roads to find a toilet. But here’s a tip from me. Try 3195 Main Street in
Barnstable. That’s the address of the Barnstable County Commissioners, just in you’ve got three screaming children who need a bathroom.
And if they should ask you if you’re there to support getting rid of the toilets on Route Six, tell ‘em. Hell No. We have to go.
I’m Ira Wood…and that’s my opinion.