Bring Back the Public Restrooms

My quixotic pandemic quest to find my kid a place to pee.

Mother Jones illustration; Getty

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Since the arrival of COVID-19, our lives have shifted in ways big and small. Most likely, the pandemic will not end with a bang—we’ll be dealing with some version of it for years to come. As we slowly adapt to our new normal, we’ll embrace some changes and resent others. A few of us at Mother Jones wrote about some of the shifts we’ve noticed in our personal lives and the world around us—from the “love it” to the “leave it” to the we’re-still-figuring-it-out. Read the rest of the essays here

 

Sinduja Rangarajan

After an afternoon of play at a park in Oakland, as we were driving back to Fremont, my four-year-old daughter announced that she needed to pee.

We took the nearest exit and parked in a strip mall with a Starbucks. Restrooms were closed. We hit up Quiznos next. No restrooms there, either. Seeing us dash door-to-door, a man asked us if we were looking for restrooms and pointed to a gas station at an adjacent parking lot. “I have kids so I understand the urgency of the situation,” he said.

It would have been a bit much to walk, so we got into our car, strapped our seat belts, and went to the gas station. The guy at the counter said the restrooms at this gas station had been shut since the pandemic started last year.

I had never been madder at another parent.

We asked the guy at the gas station if he knew of a place where our daughter could pee. He pointed to Wendy’s, a two-minute car ride away. We got into our car again. Wendy’s was closed. We saw a McDonald’s nearby. My daughter and I ran inside. We found a clean restroom at last. What a relief.

My biggest beef with McDonald’s in the past has been that it had few vegetarian food choices. But today, I felt grateful, and we celebrated our day without accidents with french fries and some coffee. As my daughter dipped her fries in ketchup, I explained the importance of peeing at home before we leave for someplace.

And yet, when we were on our way to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services today for an important appointment, our daughter said again, “Mom, I need to pee.” It was a tense moment in our car. We were almost at the office, so we went to a gas station nearby. Again, no luck. Restrooms were closed. I knocked on the Dunkin’ Donuts next door. The restroom was out of order.

I could have scurried to a strip mall next door to try Starbucks, Chipotle, or Black Bear Diner, but I didn’t. I won’t tell you what happened next. Did it happen behind a bush? Or did her pants come to her rescue? Did she borrow her baby brother’s diapers for this one time? Did a kind stranger guide us to the right doors this time around? You’ll just have to guess.

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