By Don Nelson
We all understand what it means to answer “when nature calls,” one of many euphemisms for the most basic of human functions. Other analogous expressions are more colorful or inelegant, but nevertheless effective. You can’t miss the point, or underestimate the need. When you gotta go, you gotta go.
Gather enough people in one place, and that adds up to a lotta gottas. Absent nearby relief, stress, anxiety and irritation levels inevitably will rise concurrently with bladder levels. And that’s just the adults. Squirmy, low-capacity kids have even less patience than they have control. Other people have health issues that require reasonable proximity to a toilet.
In extremis, most people will accept whatever trepidations they associate with using “public” facilities. It’s the least public thing we want to do. Yet that is often the only option.
Except when it isn’t. If, at this point, you are thinking “downtown Twisp,” get in line. You’re a bit late to the potty pity party.
There are few practical public alternatives in downtown Twisp — even fewer since the street-accessible restrooms in The Merc Playhouse were closed for a variety of reasons. Most restaurants and retail establishments have bathrooms for customers, but they aren’t meant for walk-in traffic. Other facilities such as the Methow Valley Community Center can accommodate events and tenant traffic, but not the general populace.
But it is that pesky general populace that shows up for the Saturday morning Methow Valley Farmers Market, and they may also spend time browsing in downtown shops or eating at nearby restaurants.
Last summer, with the Merc bathrooms closed and no other evident public options available, the search for places to go often turned desperate, and local merchants became the fallback options. Last year and again this year, downtown businesses are pressing the town to do something about the situation.
How difficult can that be, you say?
Now, just hold it a minute. You can’t simply dig a pit latrine and hang a roll of toilet paper from a stick. Even portable toilets must be private, sanitary, secure, reasonably comfortable and adaptable to whatever COVID protocols are necessary. Moreover, they need to be maintained — cleaned, emptied, repaired, regularly inspected. Somebody has to make sure that all happens, and pay for it. Typically, it’s a local or state government function.
In Winthrop, the town provides public restrooms at several locations, including adjacent to Town Hall at the four-way stop, and at the Winthrop Barn next to Mack Lloyd Park. The town pays someone to regularly inspect and clean the bathrooms. As a tourism destination, Winthrop can do no less — and some critics say it’s not enough.
Twisp has its share of visitors, but the town isn’t flush with cash. There’s not much wiggle room in its operating budget. Recently, Twisp Public Works Director Andrew Denham had a portable toilet installed at Commons Park next to the Community Center parking lot to alleviate some of the pressure. He says it will stay as long as it’s needed. Denham did that on his own initiative to provide some kind of response.
More is needed, but that may be as good as it gets for a while. What the town could really use is a commodious central public facility, like the one on La Conner’s main shopping drag, that is regularly attended to. As I recall, at the La Conner bathroom, users are asked to make donations toward its upkeep.
Something similar in Twisp would require a location, money to design and construct it, and a regular budget commitment to maintaining the building. It would take a lot of community effort. (On the other hand, writing even more stories about the need for public bathrooms provides a low-threshold opportunity to weave in groan-inducing and even borderline-tasteless puns, and I’ve used about all of them that are printable in a family-friendly newspaper.)
It’s not as dramatic a project as a new library, fire hall or civic building, but it seems like a worthy project for someone’s near-term agenda. A permanent solution is necessary. Until then, renting porta-potties ad infinitum is just throwing money down a hole.