No matter what you call it; the facilities, the john, the throne, the biffy, the loo, the water closet; that porcelain plumbing fixture is a necessary part of modern life. We take it so much for granted that we don’t realize until we get out in public just how important it is. I don’t think I’m the only one who’s had some pretty unhappy experiences away from the comforts of home.
First comes the urge, then the hunt, then desperation. Depending on where you are, and how and why you’re traveling, finding a restroom can get pretty hectic. Public buildings, hotel lobbies and parks can usually be counted on, although there’ve been times when I’ve had to resort to some creative thinking to find relief. Running through restaurants, shops and bars, shoving chairs, tables and customers aside, is frowned on, even if you do make a token purchase on your way out.
A car trip in the country will sometimes turn up a handy clump of bushes or a small stand of trees. If you happen to be in desert country, not so handy. No one wants to sit on a cactus. And it’s right about here that we women can work up a real resentment toward the male of the species. It’s so unfair.
Some years ago, while living in the Panama Canal Zone, several other leaders and I took a large troop of middle school Girl Scouts out jungle camping. The first thing the girls learned was how to dig, use and fill in a jungle latrine. It’s a quick, easy solution to the problem, needing only a suitable clearing, reasonable privacy, your own T.P. and, Oh, yes, a shovel. I’ve often wondered if any of those girls ever had need of that skill in later life.
Traveling in foreign countries often brings up a whole new set of problems. Going in public markets in Mexico, for example. In an emergency, they do offer some privacy and a fixture that usually functions. There will be a little old man sitting at the entrance, carefully doling out sheets of paper, 2 or 3 at a time, never more. You pay a few pesos, wondering at the flimsy quality, and proceed inside. The used paper is deposited in a basket next to the toilet, never inside, even in the private homes. They don’t trust their plumbing any more than we do.
My husband and I were wandering through the Acapulco Princess Hotel once, admiring the murals in that first class establishment, when I excused myself to use one of their first class rest rooms. It was lovely in all respects and I confidently stepped into a stall, closed the bar lock and did my thing.
The bar lock wouldn’t open. I tried repeatedly and was finally able to see where a tiny screw had come loose and jiggled out of place. Having nothing in my purse that would dislodge it, I grew increasingly frustrated until at last a maid came into the room. My fractured Spanglish wasn’t good enough to get my message through to her; she kept telling me to just open the door, Senora, and I kept telling her “no se function.” She finally left, no doubt shaking her head over the loca Gringa who didn’t have sense enough to unlock a door. So what did I do? Well, I ducked under the door, muttering to myself, “ there are restrooms in my own country where I’d never do this.” The room was spotlessly clean.
On a car trip through El Salvador we stopped overnight at a tidy little pension in the capitol, San Salvador. Their dining room was spacious and bright with windows all along one side having a view of the nearest volcano. The other side of the dining room was lined with toilet stalls. Nice looking stalls, but for the fact that the doors were all skimpy enough to give the casual diner a view of the occupant from the knees down. It was hard not to let your eyes stray while trying to enjoy your carne asada. Fortunately we had a private bathroom in our room.
Ever since the ceramic army of ancient warriors was unearthed in Xian, China, I dreamed of a trip to see what to me must be the eighth wonder of the world. Aside from the prohibitive expense, I realized I’d never be able to cope after hearing stories of toilets in China being basically holes in the floor. How do you say “Get me up off this thing” in Chinese?
It seemed to me that between my age and lack of agility I’d do a lot of prancing around with crossed legs before getting safely back to real toilets as I knew them. My daughter informed me just recently that nothing has changed there yet except in the tourist hotels in the larger cities. Apparently the Chinese look at our porcelain toilets as being unsanitary.
Other oddities I’ve found in restrooms on other trips; drain holes in the center of slightly sloping tile floors in Australia and New Zealand. I wondered if the fact that water swirls in the opposite direction as it drains Down Under creates a greater centrifugal force, thereby threatening to suck you in as you step out of the shower and get too close. Rather nerve-wracking.
And I loved the fact that the shiny chrome plumbing pipes are on the outside of the walls above the fixtures in some European countries, creating instant decor. They remind me of free form sculptures. They could have little plaques attached with titles like “Plumbers’ Nightmare Number One” or “ Stabile In Chrome Number Two .”
Here in our own country, I had an interesting experience not too long ago in a picturesque little beach town near here. We were in a picturesque little restaurant in a picturesque old Victorian home. Lunch was lovely and the iced tea was delicious, too delicious, in fact. After gulping down the second glassful, I went off in search of the facilities. The tiny restroom was a tad too picturesque, the toilet so low it might as well have been on the floor, Chinese style. No grab bars, no way to summon help. If my sister-in-law hadn’t finally shown up to see where I was, I’d still be sitting there. So much for picturesque. Give me modern metal stalls, loose screws and all.
Over the years I’ve come up with a few words of wisdom. If you plan to leave home, skip that second cup of coffee, under no circumstance take a diuretic ahead of time, no matter what your doctor says, and carry your own T.P. Oh, and it wouldn’t hurt to tote along a trenching shovel too, just in case.
You never know when you’ll be going out in public.