Bill goes to the bathroom

I’m the last person to write about something so declasse as sanitary facilities but I’ve seen my share this year and I’ve had enough.

We all must answer nature’s call from time to time, so let’s get together here, folks, and demand a change. Who’s had enough of the icky, plastic, smelly, don’t-even-look-there facilities we’re provided at concerts, races and parks? Maybe we should stage a sit-in and occupy some until a better solution is presented?

While this guy applauds the convenience of the plastic shelters (as compared to what he’s found in the Mideast), I think we can do better. And a port-a-potty door might have saved Tom Hanks in Castaway, but I’m tempted to head for the woods next time I’m given the option.

There have been too many potties in my life lately, and I’m no prima dona. Had I given it some thought, I might have skipped some of the events at which I was provided no alternative but lines of little blue outhouses, and a guess at which would be less gross than the next. Don’t you love it when a race is about to start, you’ve been standing in line for 30 minutes with your legs crossed, cursing that last cup of coffee, when the previous occupant emerges with an awful grimace on her face to announce, “oh, you really don’t want to go in there.”

Does this sight cause distress or relief? There must be a better way.

I endured slippery muddy potties at the rain-soaked Rock and Roll Half Marathon in Providence, overused outhouses on the Ragnar Relay, and truly condemnable bathroom accommodations at a Maine campground. Hell, a port-a-john was even my only port in a storm one day when I was skating the Cape Cod Canal path and a squall blew through. (Thank you to the Corps of Engineers folks who keep those facilities spic and span, but they’re the exception, not the rule.)

Suddenly, I am conflicted about the motives of Boston Marathon runners that my fellow Hopkinton natives skewered in my 2004 article about avoiding the hundreds of port-a-potties the BAA drops on my hometown each April.

The true inspiration for this column however was the eco-friendly Life is Good festival last month when I left my beer-pouring station to use the facilities and realized the green event organizers did not provide lighting for that portion of the grounds. There I was, in complete darkness, navigating a potty while trying not to breathe through my nose or touch anything (yes, for the record, I succeeded). Why can’t they provide some solar-charged panel on the roof for a minimal amount of light, I wondered. Then it occurred to me that a wholesale improvement is really what’s required.

Enter Bill Gates. The ultra-bajillionaire is taking his entrepreneurial skills to a new low, offering a challenge to engineers who’ll built a waterless toilet suitable for third-world countries. He may not be thinking of we lowly folk running 5k races and looking for a discreet place to relieve ourselves at a park, but he’s onto something. Those rising to his challenge are looking at ways to convert human waste to energy — that in itself may provide light for those dark port-a-johns you’re afraid to enter.

For my part, I’ll make a few non-engineer suggestions: how about a slotted floor like those found in boats, so the potty user isn’t standing in a puddle of accumulated muck and water when inside, or construction with a material other than plastic, something that will allow more light and perhaps air to filter in? And, please may the top priority be some sort of bio-shield between the current occupant and the evidence left by the last 250? Because I just don’t want to potty-talk any more. Thank you.


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