The late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois gave me some of the best advice I ever received while we were standing at adjacent urinals in the men’s room of the Rockford airport, which admittedly is not a place you expect sage advice or any conversation at all, for that matter.
“Mark, never pass up a washroom when you’re on the campaign trail,” Simon intoned in that booming voice of his. “You never know when you’ll get another chance.”
I don’t spend much time on the campaign trail these days, but, as I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to incorporate Simon’s wisdom into everyday life.
In short, never pass up a chance to use the washroom.
Simon’s words came back to me Friday as I read City Hall reporter Fran Spielman’s story about an ordinance from Ald. David Moore (17th) that would require businesses with public restrooms to make them available to individuals in an “emergency” without having to make a purchase.
Moore’s proposal stemmed from an encounter with a woman who had an embarrassing accident at a Subway restaurant after being denied use of the toilet.
Moore felt bad for her. So do I.
You can’t always choose the time and place when you gotta go, and this city doesn’t make it easy when you do.
Restaurants and stores don’t really want to be responsible for cleaning up after everyone who walks in off the street with a bodily urge, which is understandable, unless it’s your urge.
In the category of there being nothing new under the sun, columnist Roger Simon did a series of articles for the Sun-Times in the early 1980s about Burger King’s aggressive efforts to deny use of its restrooms to those who failed to first buy something. A security guard arrested one young woman and hit a man over the head with a club.
I personally don’t mind making a purchase at a business that has allowed me to use its restroom, but I don’t appreciate having to buy something first because then what do I do with the food?
Anyone who moves about the city regularly has experienced the difficulty of finding a public washroom — and, as a result, keeps a mental inventory of the nearest ones. Bike messengers are real whizzes in this regard.
I prefer the restrooms on the second floor of City Hall, one of the few remaining government buildings that doesn’t first require going through a security checkpoint (unless there’s a City Council meeting).
In a pinch, there also are restrooms in the Thompson Center basement, the only problem being they seem to be cleaned just once a month, whether they need it or not.
There’s a bathroom tucked away in a corner of the basement pedway at 69 W. Washington, but you never know if you’ll find it locked. Further east on the pedway is a newer restroom beneath the Block 37 development.
If you make it as far as Macy’s, there’s a washroom off the basement food court, as long as you don’t mind sharing it with a homeless person bathing in the sink. (I don’t.)
If I can’t quite make it back to the Sun-Times’ offices, I know there are restrooms on the first and second floors of the Merchandise Mart, although the first-floor facilities are no longer accessible via the unmarked shortcut through Potbelly’s.
When traveling along the south lakefront, I know I can use the washroom at the South Shore Cultural Center or the one inside the old Meigs Field terminal on Northerly Island.
Grocery stores, once entirely unhelpful, are now some of the city’s most reliable providers of public washrooms. Kudos to Mariano’s, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.
But rather than expect everyone to have their own encyclopedic knowledge of city toilets, maybe Ald. Moore’s ordinance makes more sense.