In Need of a Toilet in New York: There's So Much to See, but Where Do You Go?

(Photo Illustration By Susana Sanchez -- The Washington Post)
By Adriane Quinlan
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, April 12, 2009

NEW YORK -- They had come from far and wide, and now that they were here, they were exhausted and they were looking for a bathroom.

Alas: a lack.

In Times Square, three generations of Louisiana women bemoaned their first day. "We spent five hours walking around," said Whitney Rainwater, "and we only found one bathroom."

Her grandmother Beth Dawson clarified: "And it took forever to get there."

Two middle-aged ladies from Maine smiled through the discomfort. "You just have to hold it and risk urinary tract infection," joked Lisa Bouchard. Quipped Jane Cahill, "I travel with Depends."

Yet everywhere on the streets roamed those inhuman New Yorkers -- impeccably groomed, clutching 20-ounce venti Americanos, seemingly bladderless.

This is a city where a person can find just about everything -- except one very crucial thing. At midnight, one can order a glass of "cereal milk" strained through Lucky Charms but cannot savor its flavors without worrying where, afterward, one will go.

Perhaps this is a New York tradition. In 1909, tourist Sigmund Freud spent several days touring the city. To find a bathroom, he told his official biographer, "They escort you along miles of corridors and ultimately you are taken to the very basement where a marble palace awaits you, only just in time."

"When people think of New York," said Robert Brubaker of the Baltimore-based American Restroom Association, which aims, among other things, to improve signage and visibility, "they definitely think of it as a public restroom desert."

A desert? Any true New Yorker would scoff to hear that. You simply must be in the know.

* * *

Giving the furniture showroom of Crate & Barrel a once-over, Brandy Antonio from Queens exhaled a little sigh. "This place has become more popular in the last two or three years," she said. "If it gets too crowded, we'll switch." On floral-print chaises lollygagged the companions of those using the in-store bathrooms, well-stocked facilities with pristine sinks. It was a sunny Sunday, and Broadway below was crowded with shoppers out for the recession sales. But here, there were no lines.

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