Monday, July 11, 2011

Potty Talk

OK, my friend Suldog has done it again.  A while back, he posted about HIS WIFE'S accidental misadventure (at least, he presented it as accidental, and I have no reason to doubt him) with a public restroom.  Which, as Suldog's posts often seem to do, called forth a couple of stories from my own young life, which I left in his comment-space, but later decided that they would work just fine for taking up some space in my own humble blog.  You all can tell me whether or not I assessed their quality accurately. . .


Many years ago, Jen and I were at the annual Mackinac Bridge Walk, held every Labor Day, in which a couple lanes of the majestic bridge joining Michigan's peninsulas are given over for a few hours, so that Michiganders (or, really, anybody who shows up) can walk the 5-mile span. Something like 50,000 people do the bridge walk every year, proceeding from north (St. Ignace) to south (Mackinaw City).  Bridge-walkers can park their cars at either end of the bridge, but south-to-north bus transport will be required, either to take you from your car on the south end to the beginning of the walk, or from the end of the walk to your car on the north end.  Michiganders have learned, from 50+ years' experience, that, if you are in the UP on Labor Day, and want to drive south, you either cross the bridge before the sun rises, or you wait until later in the day.

So we walked the bridge, and we had a great time.  There is something fairly awesome about walking across a five-mile expanse of open water, with its views of Michigan's two peninsulas, and Mackinac Island (which is probably my favorite place in all the earth).  And it is not unusual for a freighter to pass under the bridge, and thus, beneath the walkers' feet, in the course of the hour-plus it takes to complete the walk.  At the highest point of the bridge, the walker is more than 200 feet above the water (and the center lanes of the suspension portion of the bridge are decked with an open steel grid, for aerodynamic reasons; if a walker suffers from vertigo or acrophobia, he is well-advised to keep to the solidly-paved outer lane)

Anyway, with so many walkers, the, uh, need for toilet facilities is particularly acute, given that the normal population of Mackinaw City is a bit under1000 souls (altho, during the summer tourist season, the town is considerably more crowded than that). One of the years I went, I got to the end of the walk and really had to go.  There were something like 50 porta-johns lined up in an open field near where the buses were lined up to take us back to the north end of the bridge, where our cars were parked. Half of 'em were labeled 'MEN' and the other half 'WOMEN'. For some odd reason, there were long lines at all the 'MEN's' porta-johns, but none at all at the 'WOMEN's' (which, I think, is the absolute only time I've ever seen that, but that's how it was).

I was somewhere around 20th in line, crossing my legs and urging the lines to move faster, when the thought slowly crept from the deep recesses of my brain to the level of outward conscious thought - 'Waaaaiiiiit a miniiiiitttt. . . only one person at a time can use a porta-john. . .  They don't need to mark 'em for MEN and WOMEN at all. . ."  Evidently, the exact same thought percolated to the front of several other men's minds virtually simultaneously, because several of us together wandered over to the WOMEN's porta-johns and quickly availed ourselves of their amenities.  By the time I emerged a minute or two later, having finished my business, and being considerably more relieved than when I'd gone in, the 'MEN' and 'WOMEN' signs had all been taken down, and all the porta-johns had lines, half as long as the previous ones, and, uh, urinary throughput was doubled. . .


Another time, I was at a conference at a small liberal-arts college in Michigan. During a break between sessions, I made use of the restroom facilities. The urinals (ladies, if you really don't know what 'urinals' are. . . uh, ask your brother, or something) were of an odd type that I hadn't seen before - sort of a 'pedestal' design, away from the wall, that required the, uh, user to sorta split his legs on either side of the, uh, receptacle, in order to 'do his business'. Afterward, I was commenting on the uniquely-configured urinals to one of the other (male) conferees, when an employee of the college, standing nearby, overheard us.

"Oh, that is quite intentional," he informed us. "They're unisex urinals." I invested a few seconds' thought toward how that might work if I were, you know, an actual woman (and it seemed to me that, in actual usage, it might not work quite as, um, cleanly as what the designer originally thought it would) (I should also mention here that I never wandered into the women's restroom to see if they had also been installed there).  Then I quickly shook my head to clear the image from my brain.

Only, you know, at a college (probably the same folks who dream up stuff like this). . .


  1. Thanks for the shout-out (I think...)


    No, good tales, of course.

  2. The walk sounds great, and I've had to bypass "women's" porta-pottis, too..

    but, by far the *funniest* is that link, Mr. Milker?? holy cow ;)

  3. So, do they put those urinals in unisex dorms?

  4. the walk sounds like fun!

    the unisex urinal? after looking at them....uh, no thanks.

    mr. milker? lord have mercy....

    word veri: brosew, bro sew. haha!

  5. Suldog - At least I didn't give you an award. . .

    Sailor - "holy cow. . ."

    HAH! I get it!

    Bijoux - Well, you know, unisex dorms came along just after my time. We had coed dorms, but each floor was either all-men or all-women. Some of the newer dorms, which had 'suites' of two rooms sharing a bathroom, would go 'coed-by-suite', but none of the dorms had 'open bathrooms'. Do they really do that now?

    Lime - The bridge-walk is fun; I highly recommend it, if you're ever around Mackinac over Labor Day.

    And thanks for checking and reporting back; I was wondering what an actual woman would think of those urinals. . . (and the less said about 'Mr. Milker', the better, I think. . .)

    I've never sewn much, but I like to cook. . . ;)

  6. Yes, while visiting colleges with the daughters we ran across a couple unisex bathrooms. No, there were no urinals, everything was in a stall.

    Now back in some Roman cities, however, they had unisex bathrooms as the rule minus urinals, supposedly. And minus stalls!! One of the 'perks' of everyone wearing skirts ...... and the seats were often set in a semi-circle facing each other so folks could continue talking whilst going .... how progressive!

  7. Xavier - Thanks for the exposition (I think) ;)

    Sitting around conversing, while everyone does their toileting business under their togas, could get, um, interesting. . .

    Reminds me a bit (at least, in concept) of the 'open-air' urinals my friends have described to me, from France, where the guys relieve themselves on one side of a chest-high wall, while able to converse with passers-by on the other side of the wall.

    Not, sheesh, that us Americans need any ideas. . .

  8. Oh, and - did your daughters end up attending any of the unisex-john schools?

  9. Yeah, the Romans were years ahead of us .... sorta. Not sure it'd be that much of an advance, but that's just me.

    And yes, our youngest was at a college that had at least one unisex privy, though I suspect they had more than the one we ran across. Older schools with antiquated facilities were in a bind over handicapped access when often there was one bathroom on each floor of a building. If they couldn't muster the space or plumbing to put additional bathrooms they were 'stuck' with having to go unisex.

  10. Xavier - 'Cuz yeah, of course, you can't have such a thing as single-sex dorms. . .

  11. Actually this is in general population (i.e. some of the older instructional buildings) not in dorms ......

    My guess is that's why they have more than the average share of floor-separated coed dorms, BTW

  12. I see. . . At any rate, the old dorms were certainly built with the idea that only one sex would be occupying them, anyway. . .

    And, just because I just KNOW that you all want to see what Lime and I are talkin' about, here is a link (video, no less). . .