Finding Public Restrooms When You Need to Pee

“Restrooms are for customers only.” How often have you read those words? How meanly, how absolutely cruelly do they jump out at you in your moment of need? As your bladder becomes more and more insistent and you look up and down the endless rows of retail establishments and curse yourself for indulging in that second double latte, you more and more desperately search for someplace to provide you with a little relief.

Don’t get caught in the cold again. I can provide the definitive guide to public restrooms, places where the staff might look the other way, and places where you can blend in easily with legitimate customers. It is my gift of charitable humanity, for there is no one more snappish and down right garrulous than someone who needs to take a leak. Believe me, as the woman with the smallest bladder on the planet, I have made an art out of finding places to pee.

The first thing you need to do is survey your environment. Here is what you’re looking for: government buildings, hotels, large bookstores (Borders Books and Music, Barnes and Noble, any bookstore large enough to house a cafÃ?© inside), bars, coffee houses, large restaurants, department stores, college campuses and malls.

The first place to hit, if there is one near by, is any government building. By federal law, all municipal, state, or federal buildings must have public restrooms, and they must allow anyone to use them during their operating hours. These buildings include city halls, state buildings, all federal agencies, public libraries, registries of motor vehicles, really, any building that houses any number of employees of a government. Of course, there is am inherent problem with using a government building if you’re in really desperate shape. In this post 9/11 world, it may take more time to get through the security channels than you have, and if you are in really desperate shape, your wincing and shivering might get you into some hot water with the security personnel, wasting precious minutes while they question you and go over you again with the hand held metal detector. And, God forbid if in your weakened condition you had forgotten to take that metal money clip from your back pocket and set off the metal detector in the doorway. Next thing you know you’re sitting on a plastic chair fumbling with the double knots in the laces of the shoes you’ve just been instructed to remove.

No, despite the fact that those restrooms are your restrooms, and that they were bought and paid for with your very own tax dollars, if you’ve past the uncomfortable stage and have slipped into the frantic zone, you’re going to need to rely on your finesse a little bit. My recommendation in that case is that you go for the sure bets. Those are your local hotels, large bookstores, bars, coffee houses, and large restaurants.

If you see a hotel anywhere nearby, you’re golden. The first thing to remember is that you must not ask the desk clerk or the concierge where their restroom is. You will immediately be informed that the restrooms are for guests only and you will then very politely be shown the door. Just walk by like you’ve been staying there for a week and know exactly where you’re going. Then, casually cruise around the lobby. All hotels have a restroom in their lobby. It won’t be hard to find.

Next, reporting in order of ease and surety, is the large bookstore with the cafÃ?© inside. The restroom will generally be somewhere near the cafÃ?©, but here you really can do no wrong. Just ask the clerk. There is no way they can distinguish whether or not you’re shopping for books. Large bookstores are a great favorite of mine.

Now we come to an area where you’ve got to settle into a little role playing. Bars, coffee houses, and large restaurants are everywhere, but they’re smaller, and you’re going to be more conspicuous. You’re going to have to play it cool. Bars are great because the restroom is generally easy to find, and you should be able to spot it from the door and head on over to it without making eye contact with anyone. Once you’re in it is extremely unlikely that any one working there is actually going to follow you in to tell you to leave. If you can’t see the restroom and need to ask, it is also my experience that bartenders and cocktail waitresses tend to be compassionate if you’re courteous and look desperate enough (probably not a tough sell by this point).

Coffee houses are pretty good too. Most have a key behind the counter, but times that I’ve asked for the key, I have never been grilled about where I was sitting or what my order was. Usually some pierced, tattooed college kid just reaches under the counter and pulls it out (usually attached to a large block of wood or a serving utensil) and hands it to me. If you see an older, less casually dressed person behind the counter, beware: OWNER. In that case, just watch for someone else to go in and then wait in line outside the door. You’ll then collect the key directly from them when they’re finished (silently haranguing them for taking so incredibly long in there).

Restaurants can be tricky. Try not to go for the small cafÃ?© or the Mom and Pop establishments. Chain restaurants, or restaurants with bars inside are better. In a chain restaurant, sail past the hostess booth. The hostess will assume that you’re looking for someone. If she does happen to question you, just tell her you’re meeting some friends and want to see if they’ve arrived yet. Then you can stroll around and either find the restrooms yourself, or ask a server. The server won’t know that you’re not just dressed up to leave after finishing your meal. A restaurant with a bar is even better. You can go straight into the bar, which is generally not seated by the hostess. Then just ask the bartender where you should go. Hopefully he’ll give you the kind of answer you’re looking for.

Last, I include department stores, college campuses and malls. In order of likelihood that you’ll find a bathroom, all three are absolute sure bets. The problem, however, and the reason I list them last, is that the bathrooms in these places can be extremely far away and incredibly difficult to find. When you’re doing the hokey pokey, you may not have time to go up two escalators and through women’s lingerie to find the small hallway behind the home goods department. And forget about asking the college kid you’ve just encountered while cruising through the quad- he’s still trying to figure out where it is himself.

There is hope, friends. Don’t let that old sign get you down. All you need is some knowledge and a little bit of “c’est la vie” and you’ll be drinking double lattes with reckless abandon. Cheers!

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