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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Potty Dilema

By Silvia Uribe

My friend Gaby was feeling ill. It was a Saturday night. State Street, downtown Santa Barbara, was filled with people enjoying a restful weekend. Some were getting out of the movie theatre, while others were walking off their dinner. Gaby knew she needed to look for a restroom.

"No one likes to see a pregnant woman vomit in Santa Barbara, in the middle of State Street" - hammered her inner voice. Stores were already closed. There was only one question in her mind: Where to go?

It was around 9:30p.m. The nausea was unbearable. She leaned on her husband's arm without saying a word. She was trying very hard to stop an imminent violent explosion. Suddenly, she felt dizzy. Her quest for a restroom came to a halt. Things started to spin around her. Jim's face. A barking dog. A street juggler. The cars.

What came out of her mouth was, at the same time, gross and relieving. In a matter of seconds she went from almost fainting to feeling like she got her life back. Embarrassed from not being able to make it to a restroom, and wishing she were invisible, she walked back to the car with Jim.

Her question persists. Where to go, when you need to go? Particularly, once the stores are closed, the options are limited to coffee shops, restaurants, and bookstores. However, the employees at those places stare at people who use their services without patronizing their business. Understandable, but it makes you feel like you're doing something illegal.

Public restrooms should be our premier option, but in downtown Santa Barbara these are scarce. Locals know that there is one upstairs at the Paseo Nuevo Mall, around the corner from the Art Gallery, in a rather isolated area (poor tourists have no idea). Yet, good judgment and prudence tell us to avoid solitary, out of sight places, especially at night.

Another public restroom, infamous for its cost, is located on State St. between Borders and the parking structure next to it. It is well lit, and very visible. One problem, though. They close it early, at around 9 p.m. This restroom is in the heart of our city, where people hang out until late hours. Is it only me, or is it really stupid that they close the only public restroom on the street so early?

Bars could be a good option... for those of us who are over twenty-one. They really don't know and don't care who uses their restrooms. However, the problem with bars is that most of them are clustered together on one block of State St. When an emergency presents, unless we are on that particular block, it is unlikely that we can get there before an accident happens. Plus children - who are not allowed in bars - also have potty emergencies, you know?

Presently, when I have to choose between disregarding safety issues and courtesy, I painfully confess that I go with the latter. It is uncomfortable to be stared at, or to be the intruder who reads the warning sign at the coffee shop's restroom, "Customers Only." But I prefer this to grossing people out on the street, or to wetting my pants, or even worse, to having an encounter with an outlaw.

For the time being, and with the city budget crisis, it is not possible to build another public restroom on State St. But, would it be possible for the city to collaborate with coffee shops and other businesses in offering potty services? Maybe if the city covers bathroom cleaning materials, or janitorial services, or if it offers a discount on the water bill to participating businesses, they would be more willing to accept the extra nuisance.

Establishing a dialog and improving collaboration with the business community on this matter will only benefit both residents and tourists

It would be great to stop wondering where to go when we need to go.

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.

Cross-posted at

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