NEW HAVEN, CT—Commuter Michael Broberg boarded Metro-North Railroad's 8:37 p.m. train on Monday with one objective: to find a vacant bathroom in one of the train's seven cars and relieve himself in it. Unforeseen obstacles, however, forced him to continually revise and reevaluate this plan over the course of the nearly two-hour commute.

"In retrospect, when I first got on [the train], that was probably my best window of opportunity," said Broberg, 32, an ad agency copywriter who routinely commutes to and from Manhattan.

Commuter Michael Broberg

Although he says he did not feel a strong urge to urinate at the time of boarding, the cola-filled Broberg still wanted to relieve himself before the train left Grand Central Terminal, "just in case," but his duffle bag posed a dilemma. "If I left it on the seat, someone could just come right by and steal it," Broberg said. "And I know that if I had brought it into the bathroom with me, I'd have lost my seat for sure. Then I'd be standing the whole ride."

With bladder pressure mounting as he contemplated the long commute without a chance to urinate, Broberg made a last-minute, final-boarding-call decision to change his seat to one directly facing the restroom so he could monitor it at all times.

"There's a little orange light above the door that's supposed to light up if someone's in there, but those never work," said Broberg, who admitted that anxiety about walking into an occupied restroom has affected his public bathroom use in the past. His orange-light theory was verified when a woman entered the lavatory shortly before departure and the light failed to switch on.

"With the locks as unreliable as they are, and people unable to hear you knocking over the noise of the train, keeping an eye on the restroom is crucial," Broberg said. "Unless, of course, you want to place your trust in the people sitting across from the bathroom, but nine times out of 10, they're just guessing when they say no one's in there."

Other factors delayed Broberg's plan, including a long wait for an "especially chatty and slow-moving" train attendant to come by and take his ticket, a 6-year-old boy who kept running into the bathroom every five minutes for no apparent reason other than to remove handfuls of paper towels, and a passenger who boarded at the first stop and sat next to Broberg, forcing him into the window seat. According to Broberg, the man "immediately unwrapped a big, cumbersome hero sub" on his lap and began eating it while reading a broadsheet newspaper.

"There was no way out," Broberg said. "But I noticed on his ticket that he was getting off in a few stops, so I figured I'd just hold it in a little while longer."

When the train arrived at his seatmate's destination of Stamford, CT 40 minutes later, Broberg returned to his original aisle seat and, as new passengers boarded, he decided that he would use the bathroom once the train resumed moving. However, as soon as he stood up, an elderly man "came out of nowhere" and entered the restroom.

"I got up and stood next to the bathroom door, but the guy was taking forever in there," Broberg said. "I was waiting for at least 10 minutes, and I started to think that maybe he'd come out and I hadn't noticed. But then I heard a cough come from inside."

Unable to wait any longer, Broberg walked past one restroom in the next car which had a line of three people, then finally found an unoccupied handicapped bathroom in the first car.

"The handicapped bathrooms have these big sliding doors. But when I went in and tried to shut it, I realized the handle was broken, and the door couldn't be secured unless you reached out and held it while urinating," an option Broberg said he was unwilling to attempt. "I'm not an acrobat."

After a slow and painful walk back to his seat, and a total wait of one hour and 29 minutes, Broberg finally found a bathroom after exiting the train three stops early, relieving himself at the Bridgeport Station, then taking a $17 taxi back to his car in New Haven.