When You Gotta Go, and They Tell You, "No."

  • So, I drive, two hours, straight, between Roanoke and Charlottesville. And, I'm feeling pretty smug and full of myself (literally), because I didn't stop even once--not to fill up my cute, little, blazing red, Jeep Liberty Sport, or to unfill my little, now bursting, middle aged bladder.


    I'm proud of myself because, by not stopping, I had "made good time." Also, recently, during long car rides, I've been having contests (OK. I know; stupid contests...) with myself to see if I can "hold it in."


    I had an appointment in Charlottesville that I was early for, and I remembered that I had some  banking business to do. "My" bank has several branches in Charlottesville , so I headed directly--and, urgently-- towards a near by Wachovia Bank branch office. I would, make, err, productive use of my time.

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    Seeing that bank was busy, and that the staff to customer ratio was unfavorable to anything approaching personal service, only intensified the sense of urgency I was feeling. I sensed that it would be difficult to get the attention of a staff person without interrupting someone else's transaction.


    Being needy (and desperate) emboldened me. I attempted to catch the eye of a teller between customers, but she seemed to ignore me. I forged on, and stepping up to the counter, said to both the teller and the next customer, "I'm sorry to interrupt, but (turning towards the teller), may I use a rest room, please?"


    The teller appeared shocked. Perhaps she would have been more comfortable if I had politely asked, "May I have all your money, please?"


    The customer looked down. (Down to the floor? Down, deep into her thoughts? I don't know. But, somewhere "down." I guess she didn't want to look at a woman who would dare to demand to use a bank's lavatory. (Or, a woman who was about to pee on her shoes.)


    The teller replied, "We don't have a public rest room."


    With sincere panic beginning to rise in my eyes, I countered, "Perhaps you'd prefer not to offer your rest room to the public. And, I'd prefer not to beg to use your rest room. But, I just drove here, from Roanoke, for two hours, without stopping, and I REALLY need to use the bathroom badly."


    Ms. Teller, apparently struggling to maintain control, and protect her co-workers, and Wachovia's assets and property from potential ner-do-wells, insisted that, since the rest rooms were located beyond the locked security door, it would not be appropriate to allow me to enter the inter sanctum. I noted that, when similiar incidents had occurred in  other Wachovia branches elsewhere in the past, staffers courteously escorted me to the potty; couldn't that be done in this branch as well?


    She suddenly reconsidered, and soon, we both felt relieved. (Well, I know that, at least I did...!)


    The incident reminded me so much of the many times that I , an IBS patient, was denied access to a public rest room by a merchant or other business owner, resulting in an unfortunate outcome. The same thing happened to me, once, when I was about eight or nine nonths pregnant with my first baby--and the location was a "convenience" store that was also a 24-hour Greyhound bus station!  And, how many times has the same thing already happened to my three kids, who have IBD, during their young lives?


    But, just today, I found out that such behaviour, on the part of merchants and shopkeepers, is illegal in most states in the country. Rest rooms in public places should be clean, safe, in working order, and accessible, in most states.  No one requesting use of the bathroom should be turned away.


    I came across a rather unique organization, the American Restroom Association, which is "FIGHTING FOR YOUR RIGHT TO USE A RESTROOM."


    On their site, I learned that:


    "Business and mercantile establishments occasionally indicate they have no customer toilet facilities. Most likely the store managers, owners and even some local code officials are not aware that this policy is at variance with their municipalities building code. Almost all States adopt comprehensive consensus code that contains well-vetted language, which requires toilets facilities for customers, patrons and visitors. This code is then enacted Statewide or where not mandated is often adopted voluntarily at the municipal level.

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    With a few exceptions States have adopted either the International Plumbing Code (IPC), the Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC) or the National Standard Plumbing Code (NSPC).

    Building restroom access at non-food business establishments is covered by state building code in just about every state in the country.Typically this code requires that all buildings have restrooms, and that all building occupants be allowed to use the restroom. When a person enters a business establishment, assuming they were not immediately asked to leave, they are an occupant. Restrooms that are locked are allowed under Code, as long as requests to use the toilet facilities are honored.

    While the Code is generally adopted at the state level, building codes are most often enforced at the local level. Violation is often a misdemeanor. Consumer complaints usually result in an inspection of the facility. Violations found may lead to warnings, fines or the closing of the business until the violation is resolved."


    Just to make sure ( ! ), I contacted someone in my state's legislature, and was informed:

    Hi, Hope:

    The Code of Virginia, in Chapter 6 of Title 36 (Uniform Statewide Building Code) incorporates, by reference, the regulations adopted by the International Plumbing Code.



    BTW everyone, for your reference, the applicable sections of the International Plumbing Code (IPC), are:


    403.6 Customer facilities. Customers, patrons and visitors shall be provided with public toilet facilities in structures and tenant spaces intended for public utilization. Public toilet facilities shall be located not more than one story above or below the space required to be provided with public toilet facilities and the path of travel to such facilities shall not exceed a distance of 500 feet (152 m).

    403.6.1 Covered malls. In covered mall buildings, the path of travel to required toilet facilities shall not exceed a distance of 300 feet (91,440 mm). The required facilities shall be based on total square footage, and facilities shall be installed in each individual store or in a central toilet area located in accordance with this section. The maximum travel distance to the central toilet facilities in covered mall buildings shall be measured from the main entrance of any store or tenant space.

  • 403.6.2 Pay facilities. Required facilities shall be free of charge and designated by legible signs for each sex. Where pay facilities are installed, such facilities shall be in excess of the required minimum facilities

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    Stand up (or sit down, as the case may be) for your toileting rights!



Published On: August 29, 2008