Saturday, December 5, 2009


Clint will have a conference in Italy this March, so we're starting to plan how I can go with him for a long overdue vacation. Usually this meeting is in the midwest, but a five years ago it was held in Mexico City. My mom and sister watched the kids so I could go. What follows is an unfortunately true account of one of my adventures there. I can't wait to see what happens in Italy.


Mexico City has excellent public transportation. The Metro is clean, efficient, and cheap. For dos pesos you can go anywhere in the city. If only Mexico had a public restroom system to match.

None of the common spaces, the Zocolo, the gardens, have restrooms. The Metro and bus stations have pay restrooms. For one or two pesos, you get admittance and two squares of toilet paper. Once inside, wading through puddles, and debris, faced with a bare tank, no toilet seat, you wonder where your money has gone. None of the public pay baños have toilet seats. Are they stolen? Were they too expensive to buy in the first place?

And do not think the state described is just at the end of a long day before the janitors arrive. I paid my pesos at the second class bus station in Oaxaca City and entered the restroom at the same time as an attendant with a broom. A few minutes later, we left at the same time, with no discernible change in the room’s condition.
The many guidebooks I’d read before our trip left me entirely unprepared for the bathrooms of Mexico. But the resourceful tourist notices these things not long after leaving the airport and adjusts plans accordingly. If only it weren’t for Montezuma’s Revenge.

We were in the first class bus station, just off one of the Metro lines, when the need struck. And there were two restrooms; free and pay. Being new to the city, I had already used my small change on the metro, and chose the gratis.
It was a dismal gray room, empty but for me and the ubiquitous ineffectively sweeping janitor. I chose the only stall not clogged and overflowing and locked the door behind me. Now, it can be difficult to crap in the woods when you’re socialized from toddlerhood to use the porcelain bowl, but I have, and I can, and I felt confident in my ability to overcome socialization to do what must be done. But despite the wringing turmoil of my much distressed gut, hovering there, with my butt in midair over a truly disgusting stainless steel bowl, I was unable. Perhaps it was the sound of sweeping. Whatever the reason, I knew that I could indeed wait longer, until I got change, or to the hotel, or even until I left the country.

Thus resolved, I put myself back together, only to discover that the lock was jammed. I tried jiggling, shaking, prizing with my fingernails, all to no avail. Damn airport security! But for them I would have my trusty leatherman in a situation when it might actually be useful. I considered calling out to the janitor “Perdon, pero, la puerta esta cerrado y no puedo la abierta.” But I was too mortified at the thought of revealing my ignorance and ineptitude, so I remained silent. I would have to escape on my own. If only she would leave so that I could do it privately. But after a several interminable minutes passed, during which time I reconsidered, and rejected the thought using the toilet, I decided that I would have to act, humiliating public spectacle or not.

Under the door? Nope, only about six inches between the bottom of the door and the untouchable floor. It would have to be over. I stood on the seatless rim and looked over the stalls. The custodian, still sweeping, was at the other end of the room, looking away. Now or never. I squeezed my bag and hat under the door, hopped up on the toilet (finally serving a purpose), and hoisted myself over the door. As I retrieved my gear, I felt the janitor’s eyes on me. “La puerta no abeirta,” I fumbled. She responded with something along the lines of “Then don’t close it,” but of course that was by now obvious to both of us.

I rejoined Clint outside in the terminal. “Feeling better?” he asked. “I decided to wait.” He raised his eyebrows at that, but mercifully, said nothing.


Gina said...

Italy!! Woohoo!!!

I can't believe that trip to Mexico was five years ago! And I remember this story now, but couldn't remember the ending, and I had a moment of terror that you were going to go under the stall...

denebug said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it again. I wish we could get our little writing group back together. It seems like I need deadlines and feedback to produce anything.

Mitchell Family said...

I totally agree about our writing group. I was thinking about how much I need one right now. Why did you all have to move? Ruth

Heather said...

And I thought the toilets in Taiwan were bad! Most of those were built into the floor - great that you didn't have to sit on them, but not so great when you really had to go. And fortunately, the only time I've ever been stuck in a stall was at the Boston Temple and I didn't feel too bad crawling under the door!