Restroom Radar

Looking for a Toilet in the New Mexico Desert

Nowhere To Go, Photo by AndrewEnjoying some lovely spring weather this week, I decide to take a drive through one of the more scenic areas of my state. The journey from Santa Fe to Durango is notable for many things—beautiful scenery, roadrunners, Georgia O’Keefe, and longhorn cow bones are among them, but civilization is not. It’s several hours’ worth of sparsely populated desert mountain terrain. As I get further from town and closer to, well, nowhere, I end up thinking about the times I’ve made trips like this with an ulcerated colon. Times when I’d get little to no warning of a number-two, impending as a priority-one event. If you think it was hard to find dwellings along this road, try finding a restroom. This is New Mexico after all; you’d be more likely to encounter a UFO. But then again that might not be all bad, maybe they’d have facilities on board.

I look out the window at a wide-open, arid landscape that bears almost nothing growing taller than knee-height, aside from the occasional juniper bush or tumbleweed. I can’t help but remember a simpler time when I was growing up in the Midwest… where roads are lined with trees and bushes… where an emergency pit stop provides the cloak of shrubbery and luscious handfuls of thick green leaves. I look out my window again and see little more than cactus, rocks, and sand. I instinctively prod my jeans where the packet of tissues lives in my pocket.

Supplies? Check. Privacy? Not so much—unless you consider that there probably isn’t another person within ten miles of here, so really, what’s the diff? Los Alamos is not far away, I realized, that’s where they do all that nuclear research—so it’s quite possible I could show up, with dropped trou, on some Russian spy-satellite photos. Hmm. The next several minutes (and probably more brain power than I care to admit) were spent pondering such a situation, trying to decide if that should be a proud or embarrassing moment. I settle on the former, mostly because I like to make people laugh and I’m sure there’d be plenty of that.

Desert Dookie Desert Dookie, Photo by AndrewHowever, at least this place offers some options, unpleasant as they may be. Unfortunately that is not always the case, even within the cocoon of modern civilization. I recall a situation in Manhattan where the nearest restroom was inside a three-story mall where you had to actually make a purchase at a store to get a secret electronic ticket that would admit you to the bathroom—as if there were time for that! I once begged a pharmacist in Seattle to let me use their employee restroom. One time I double-parked in downtown El Paso and ran into a fast food restaurant for an experience I never want to talk about (somehow, luckily, I did not end up with hepatitis). There was an occasion in Salt Lake City where I tried urgently to find a restroom by entering Temple Square, but quickly gave up on account of all the people trying to talk to me on the way. I don’t need you to save my soul, I kept thinking to myself, I need you to save my ass!

I think of all the times I’ve felt that private agonizing desperation in places where there is no nature nearby in which to relieve oneself like they do in the wild kingdom, and no available facilities like they’re supposed to use in the kingdom of mankind. The anguish and helplessness are unbearable to remember… unthinkable to experience. 

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