To pee or not to pee. That was the question.
As it turned out, the answer wasn’t that simple—not in the new world of the pandemic. For the road trip my husband David and I were planning, not to pee was actually out of the question. It was a long drive from Salt Lake City to our second home in Ellensburg, Washington. 740 miles. Over 11 hours. At least six rest stops. Aye, there was the rub: potty breaks.
There would be other challenges along the way. Utah was in lockdown and extensive travel was discouraged by the state’s public officials and health experts. It appeared from news reports that Washington was under similar restrictions. Idaho on the other hand was more open, with potentially alarming consequences.
David researched the matter thoroughly and learned that most advisories recommended driving straight through to our destination, not staying overnight in hotels, and eating snacks prepared in advance, preferably consumed while we were driving. It could be done, we were certain. Except for one thing. The advisories also said to avoid rest stops. Bad ventilation in the toilet areas. Uncertain cleaning schedules, contaminated surfaces. Droplets everywhere.
I thought the risks could be minimized. “I can make it work,” I said. “I’ll wear a mask and gloves, and I can be in and out in minutes.”
David was adamant. His usual easygoing, twenty-first century enlightened-kind-of-guy attitude toward my independence had given way to 1950s-style protective concern, reflecting our dangerous ages. “I’m not going to let you risk using the bathroom at a rest stop. We’ll find some other way.” He didn’t have to worry about his own needs, of course. He could just go somewhere outside or along the highway. But what choices did I have?
We tried to find a suitable alternative. David retrieved an unused Porta Potty he had stored in our basement (why we had bought it in the first place was lost to me) and suggested positioning it sideways on the back seat of our pickup. “You can sit on it there. I have a screen that I’ll put around the windows so you can have some privacy.”
I gave it a test run with the truck parked in our driveway in Salt Lake City. Not a full trial, which might have caused consternation among some of our more watchful neighbors. I simply tried getting into the seat, which was folded into the cargo position, and perching on the toilet with my legs hanging out the door. “This won’t work,” I told David, after squirming and trying to find a reasonable comfort zone. “Even if I crouch low, I’m sitting so high my head hits the ceiling of the cab. And at some point I’m going to have to stand up a bit after I use it.”
“Really?” he asked. “Why?”
“Just take my word for it. It won’t work.”
So it became my turn to propose a solution. “I could use the Porta Potty outside the truck,” I said, “if we had some sort of screen that could surround me while I’m squatting on it. If someone hasn’t already invented something like that, I will.”
As it happened, someone had. It was a privacy tent, a shelter used by campers for outdoor showers and portable toilets. We found dozens of models on Amazon and ordered one that claimed to be simple to set up. It arrived in a few days, conveniently packed in a large flat carrying case. We unfolded it easily on our front lawn. Substantial and impressive, it was sort of like a freestanding confessional. But it was over seven feet tall and four feet wide on all sides. If I wanted an inconspicuous way to take a potty break, this wasn’t it. Still, it might be my best option. “I guess I could make it work,” I said. “Otherwise we’ve wasted $70 on something we’ll never use.”
“We could always take it on camping trips,” David suggested, his bright view of future vacation possibilities suddenly awakened. He had obviously forgotten the unfortunate outcome of our stay at a campground near one of Utah’s national parks. Everything was fine until we crawled into our tent and tried to go to sleep. We lasted about two hours, twisting and turning in our sleeping bags. Finally, we left the campsite and checked into the only available motel room in the small town outside the park. The bathroom smelled suspiciously rank, the furnishings didn’t look like they had been cleaned recently, and the outside door to the room wouldn’t lock. We slept fully clothed on top of the comforter.
“I don’t think a camping trip is in our future,” I said firmly. “We can probably just give this thing to our relatives who like to camp. But we may need to find something else for our trip to Washington.”
In desperation, I turned to some of my more outdoor-oriented friends for advice on my rest stop dilemma. “Learn to do what men do,” one of the most experienced campers suggested. “They just go find some trees to hide behind and they pee standing up. Or you can perch on the running board of the truck with both doors open as a shield.”
That seemed like a possibility, but surely there was some way of providing a little more direction to the stream. Something to eliminate splashes. Otherwise, I thought, I’ll end up with smelly wet shoes and even worse, smelly wet clothes.
“If someone hasn’t invented something like that, I will,” I told myself again. But, of course, someone had.
On Amazon, I found pages of female urination devices, many with cute, friendly names: Tinkle Belle, PeeBuddy, GoGirl, Johnny on the Spot, and—my personal favorite—Easy Peezy. “I think I could make this work,” I told David, and ordered a model that looked like it would be acceptable.
Within a few days, two packages of disposable “Mini Toilets” arrived. “Traffic emergency use,” it said on the package. That sounded about right. But how did they work? I wasn’t about to risk doing my business standing behind some bushes alongside a busy highway without knowing that. Unfortunately, they were made in China and the instructions were very roughly translated from Chinese. “The product opening is made by soft materials,” I was assured, “feel relieved to use.” OK, what else should I know? “The bag itself has the absorbency function, and provided with the structure without leakage after an absorbent.” I guessed I could figure out what to do unless there were some problems I needed to avoid. Oh wait, there were a few. “Holding the bag while using the bag opening is made of soft materials.” I had no idea what that meant. Could there be other serious consequences? Apparently. “Do not give the children to play” and “Do not get close to the fire.” Even more ominously, “Do not use in the other ways.”
“What do you think?” David asked as he saw me studying the package.
“I think I could make it work,” I said. “But there are only six of them, barely enough for the trip to Washington. I’m going to order more, in another brand.” And I did.
When the day of our trip finally arrived, we left early in the morning in order to miss rush hour traffic. The Porta Potty, privacy tent and a small suitcase filled with several boxes of disposable urination devices, sanitary wipes, toilet paper and—my latest impulse purchase—a reusable feminine urinal, took up most of the space on the back seat of our truck.
“Do you realize we spent over a hundred dollars and went to a lot of trouble just so I could avoid using the toilets at public rest areas?” I commented as we headed toward the Idaho border.
“It will be worth it if it keeps you safe from the coronavirus,” David replied.
The trip turned out to be less difficult than I had feared. Parking close to the pet zones at the far ends of the rest stops, away from the buildings with toilets and vending machines, we didn’t seem to be noticed by anyone, although we were eyed with suspicion by a couple of golden retrievers and a poodle. I tried two or three of the devices along our way. The solution I liked best was sitting on the Porta Potty in the back seat of the truck with my legs hanging out the door.
I know. That surprised me too. It was just a matter of mastering the logistics.
I’ll keep the other gadgets, of course. I’ll just have to find some off-road or rustic settings where I’ll feel less awkward or uncomfortable using them. Maybe another camping trip isn’t such a bad idea after all.
All’s well that ends well, I thought when we arrived late in the afternoon at our home in Ellensburg. I felt strangely liberated and self-confident. David watched as I stored the privacy tent, Porta Potty and suitcase of female urination supplies in the corner of our utility room where they would be ready for other adventures. And our return to Salt Lake City.
“So how do you think it went?” he asked.
“Easy peezy,” I said.
I knew I could make it work.