AMES, IA—A local resident's search for a public bathroom became an epic odyssey of alienation, humiliation, and human cruelty Monday.
"You have no idea what I've been through," said Pete Webster, 27, recovering from the harrowing ordeal in his apartment. "From endless 'Bathroom For Paying Customers Only' signs to toilets so disgusting they're unsuitable for vomiting, I saw it all."
Webster's bathroom search began at approximately 1:15 a.m., 30 minutes after leaving Burrito Bob's, where he consumed a double enchilada platter and a 32-ounce Pepsi. Though he felt fine upon exiting the popular late-night eatery, he soon felt an overwhelming need to defecate.
"I should've gone at Burrito Bob's," said Webster, who had spent the night barhopping with friends. "But I didn't have to go when I left. Besides, I figured I could always just dart into a gas station or some 24-hour restaurant and do the deed."
"What I failed to factor in," Webster continued, "is the unfathomable darkness of the human soul."
Rather than head back to his west-side apartment, a 25-minute walk from the downtown area, Webster made the fateful decision to search for a public restroom. His first stop was the Rite-Aid 24-hour pharmacy on West Gentry Street. Asking for the bathroom, he was told by a cashier that the facilities were for employee use only.
"I offered to buy a candy bar or something, but this bitch cashier said that wouldn't make any difference," Webster said. "How could a drugstore not have a public bathroom? Explain that one to me. Isn't public health in the interest of a drugstore? What's a more basic public-health issue than having to take a shit?"
The pressure on his bowels steadily building, Webster was able to obtain the key to the men's room of an Amoco gas station on Kellogg Avenue at 1:50 a.m. But an unspeakable horror awaited him.
"The toilet was backed up, and sewage had slopped over the lid of the toilet onto the floor," Webster said. "There was no toilet paper, no soap, no paper towels, and no stall door. Still, I decided to go for it."
Gingerly attempting to hover above the bowl without making contact, Webster stopped himself when he was suddenly overcome by a fear of splashback. He promptly returned the key to the gas-station attendant.
"I told the guy the restroom was unusable," Webster said. "He gave me this look, like I was acting like some sort of diva."
Unable to find a place to defecate, Webster decided to give himself partial relief by urinating. Even this effort, however, brought nothing but torment and pain.
"I snuck behind a tree to piss, but I couldn't get the piss going without the rest coming out, too," Webster said. "Sometimes, I can take a piss when I actually have to do more, but this time it would've been too much to hold back."
At 2:10 a.m., Webster encountered a group of Iowa State University students, who directed him to the school's student union.
"They said, 'Oh, yeah, there's a bunch of bathrooms in [the union]. Just head a few blocks down Marston and take a right at 12th Street, you can't miss it,'" Webster said. "When I got there, the whole place was lit up. I can't tell you how happy I was running up the steps of that building."
The building was locked, closed since midnight.
"When I saw the union was closed, I started thinking about that one guy who was having a hard time keeping a straight face while the other rattled off the directions," Webster said. "I guess they decided to have a little fun at my expense. I didn't know them, and they didn't know me. It was just a bit of senseless, cruel fun. I guess they didn't realize they were toying with a broken, desperate man."
The student-union episode was followed by several more spirit-crushing glimpses into the howling void. Webster encountered a Port-A-Potty in a local park which turned out to be padlocked, was denied restroom access by the acerbic employees of a bail-bonds office, and came across a convenience-store restroom dubiously declared "out of order" by a makeshift sign scrawled on notebook paper.
Finally, at 2:45 a.m., Webster decided to accept defeat and begin the 25-minute walk home. Within moments of opening the apartment door, relief was his.
"In retrospect, I should've just gone home right at the start," Webster said. "But I really thought it'd be faster to find a place downtown than to walk home. Even when I hit the one-hour mark, I still thought I'd find one any second. That's the thing about bathroom searches: No matter how bad it's going, you still think some mythical golden stall with a clean seat and a fresh roll of paper is just around the corner."
The ordeal has given Webster new perspective on society's treatment of outsiders.
"Before last night, I never realized what second-class citizens people without ready access to toilets are," Webster said. "I'll tell you one thing: If I ever encounter someone in that situation, I will not put them through this. I'll let them use my own toilet, or personally drive them around until we find a halfway-decent crapper."