Public restrooms scarce amid pandemic as some restaurants, gas stations make them off-limits
Motorists are forced to seek out alternatives such as truck stops, supermarkets or big-box retailers like Walmart or Home Depot.
SANTA CLARITA, Calif. – Filling up on gas or food is easy with many service stations and chain restaurants off busy Interstate 5. Finding a public restroom, clean or otherwise? Now that can be a challenge.
Whether it’s the Burger King or the El Pollo Loco at the Lyons Avenue exit off the artery linking Los Angeles and San Francisco in this city, or even the Mobil or Shell gas stations, restrooms are temporarily off-limits.
Fear of the coronavirus has made one of the most important conveniences of life on the open road — the public restroom — harder to come by at one long-dependable source: fast-food outlets. Many are now limited to drive-thrus only.
With gas stations not necessarily a sure bet either, motorists are forced to alternatives like truck stops, supermarkets or big-box retailers like Walmart or Home Depot.
Alisa Stewart discovered the problem first hand while leading family trips to Las Vegas, a 290-mile slog one way from home in Santa Monica, California, to visit relatives twice last month. On one journey, rest stops and a Starbucks’ loo were closed. A normally dependable standby, the landmark Mad Greek Cafe in the town of Baker, was shuttered. “Before COVID-19, they were open 24 hours,” she lamented in an email.
“Luckily, Del Taco in Baker let us use (its) restrooms,” even though the Mexican fast-food chain eatery had drive-thru service only, Stewart said.
When it comes to being safe from the coronavirus, fast-food restaurants say they have no choice but to limit access to restrooms. Starbucks spokesman Jory Mendes points to the steps the coffee chain has taken to meet or exceed public health guidelines. One of them is closing restrooms with stores without customer seating to all non-baristas except first responders and those protected by a law involving certain medical conditions.
Burger King restrooms are closed where dining rooms are closed “for the safety of BK guests,” said spokeswoman Adrianna Lauricella.
At the Mobil Mart in Santa Clarita where the restroom is closed, cashier Mandeep Thind said that when it was open, users absconded with toilet paper and relieved themselves on the floor to avoid touching the toilet. He said he let certain customers in dire need use it and is sympathetic to emergencies, recognizing ”when you got to go, you got to go.”
The Great Restroom Shortage has been cropping up sporadically around the country.
“We are hearing from some readers and staff who have not been able to find open public restrooms during road trips,” said Brian Kelly, CEO of The Points Guy, a travel website. The good news? “It’s been getting better.”
“Better,” however, can’t come soon enough for those feeling the urgency of their bladders.
John Nehlsof Knoxville, Tennessee, encountered closed restrooms in June during a visit to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which straddles his state’s border with North Carolina.
As part of its “phased reopening,” the park listed several open restrooms as of Wednesday on its website.
“Fortunately, the visitor center is in the town of Gatlinburg, so we were able to find alternatives. But it was a bit frustrating,” he said in an email.
For travelers who want a digital alternative to the restroom guessing game, there are apps that may help. Kelly recommends Bathroom Scout, Flush and Sit or Squat.
Procter & Gamble’s Charmin toilet paper brand developed Sit or Squat. The app lists more than 100,000 public restrooms and users can rate their quality, including features like baby changing tables and handicapped access.
“The Charmin Sit or Squat app is designed to help people identify which bathrooms may be clean enough or a ‘no go’ while they are out and about — we all know finding a clean public restrooms can be difficult,” said P&G spokesperson Loren Fanroy.
Read more at usatoday.com