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Dispatches From Down East: What Happens in the Restroom, Stays in the Restroom

I have never had to unplug a person from a toilet before, and with good luck I will never have this stroke of misfortune again. She was stuck tighter than an over-sized beach ball thrown into a basketball net, and without me she might still be there.

McDonald's restaurant might just be one of the last places on earth where the slogan should be "anything goes." If it was up to me, I would rather not darken the doors of this particular fast-food joint, but with four children in tow, regular visits come with the territory. I, for one, generally do not leave saying "I'm lovin' it."

It is March Break on the island, and the family and I are on a road trip down through the eastern United States. We are in some small town off the I-81 S in West Virginia, and it is decided that we need a bathroom break and a bite of lunch. Although we have been rationing the liquids, we do have to pull over for a washroom break every few hours so as to rally the troops. Since McDonald's offerings include wi-fi and french fries, it is the place chosen for our pit stop.

I am still wearing winter boots; not exactly what the locals are sporting in these parts due to the double-digit temperatures. My husband manoeuvres my suitcase out of the car carrier, while my son makes smart comments about me always needing the right pair of shoes. Turns out I am not the only one changing outfits at McD.'s, as I will soon come to find out.

You could learn a lot about a person just by hanging out in a McDonald's restaurant, and in particular, by spending any length of time in the washrooms. Not that I spend an unnecessary amount of time in there, but when I am using the restrooms, something unusual often happens.

Presently, I need to use the ladies room, but I take a wrong turn and find myself face-to-face with a tall elderly man wearing a white shirt. Turns out, in this McDonald's, the urinals are right next to the door. How convenient. For the men, that is. I slink back to my seat in the dining area and watch as the man walks out and stands within close proximity to my table while he waits for his wife. I pretend to look out the window while my husband laughs at me for my disregard of the gender signs.

Let's try this again. I head back towards the women's room, this time with my three daughters along to act as a safeguard, and we wait patiently for a young lady to finish taking care of business in the wheelchair accessible washroom. She not only is without a wheelchair, but she has been using this bathroom stall cum makeshift changing room. Realizing that there is a lineup outside, she proceeds to leave and then finish the process of dressing herself in the open area, all while holding a pair of jeans turned inside out over her right arm.

In the adjacent stall to the one she has just vacated, there is another woman who has apparently decided that life is too short to use her phone in the lobby, and sometimes one needs to take multi-tasking to a whole new level. She is doing her business while talking on her cellular phone, and it appears that she is in conversation with a university about an upcoming semester of schooling. I'm sure they would not have minded the heads up that the gurgling noise they are hearing in the background is not a waterfall of the outdoor nature. She patiently discusses her options, all the while decreasing our own odds of getting in and out of this restroom in the next hour.

I have had bathroom adventures before, so I should make it clear that nothing really shocks me anymore when it comes to happenings inside the four walls of any given washroom. I was once at a beautiful beach in Prince Edward Island when I needed to take a bathroom break. Hoping for a quick in-and-outer, I was just about to open the washroom door and head for the sink to wash my hands when I heard a small cry come from the stall next to mine. Normally, I don't like to pry when it comes to noises I hear in the echelons of a public washroom, but this time the sounds actually sounded desperate.


And those sounds I heard were certainly and unmistakably the cries of someone needy of another human being's assistance. I did what anyone would do. I looked around to see if there was anyone else who could come to the aid of this poor soul crying for help. And there was not another person but me inside that bathroom.

I am one of those people who was gifted with a strong constitution, but not a strong stomach. Smells make me shiver. Bath and Body Works Wallflowers are my best friends. Getting used to changing my own children's dirty diapers was a steep learning curve for me, if not a lesson in how to talk to babies while holding one's nose. So, when I opened that door to the toilet, wherein I heard the cry for help, I was not prepared for the sights and sounds and indeed the smells that would assault me.

She was a very large woman. With all due respect, I have never had to unplug a person from a toilet before, and with good luck I will never have this stroke of misfortune again. She was stuck tighter than an over-sized beach ball thrown into a basketball net, and without me she might still be there. It took a few good pulls, but we finally unlodged her from her perch on that porcelain throne. I say we because she was pushing as hard as I was pulling. I am no weakling, but I should make clear that I weigh about 120 pounds dripping wet. How I ever managed to set her free is beyond my own understanding. After it was all said and done, and she had been popped from that toilet like a corkscrew on a good bottle of wine, I did a complete 180-degree turn and closed the door behind me. As I was walking away, she thanked me graciously. The very least I could do was give her the dignity of not a backwards glance.

I never did see her again.

These kinds of experiences just seem to follow me, from washroom to washroom, like a bad dream. It makes me wonder how I am still able to use a public facility and vacate the premises without emotional scarring. And in more ways than one, it has given me new reason to be discriminating about what room I take a rest break in.

So, when I happened to be in this particular McDonald's washroom today it was rather like a flash of memories in one long string of bad luck encounters. I now understand why some wise and discerning inventor dreamed up the Porta-Potty, bringing new meaning to the catch phrase I'm lovin' it. This wonder of an invention is the traveller with children's salvation, saving parents from a McDonald's (or some other public bathroom) nightmare.

That is, so long as you don't forget to pack the hand sanitizer and a roll or two of toilet paper.

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