The case of the missing toilets: A parks diary

Friday, 6 p.m. All 120 chemical toilets are now gone from Minneapolis parkland. There are now no public facilities -- permanent or portable -- anywhere around Lake of the Isles or Cedar Lake. Lake Harriet’s refectory was finally unlocked. As of Friday, the Lake Calhoun refectory bathrooms were not. I haven’t heard anything about Lake Nokomis. Channel 5 reporter Jon Stone’s interview with me was great -- we had a good time, and he picked out some great sound bites for the broadcast segment on how the Park Board disappeared all the portable toilets and is that incredibly weird or what?

Saturday, 2 p.m. I am biking on the south end of Lake Harriet. About one minute west of where the Porta-potty used to be, I overhear one of three young developmentally disabled men, who are moving slowly on the walking path, say loudly, “Where’s the bathroom, Mike?”

An older man, wheeling a fourth young man in a wheelchair, said, “It’s just around the corner, Peter, you hang on, okay?”

I said out loud “Omigod!” as I bike past…

Sunday, 2 p.m. I am on foot. I have waited one hour before leaving the house and visited the bathroom twice just to make sure I complete my journey without embarrassment. Still, I stop at the Lake Harriet refectory just in case. The line of women waiting to use three stalls is around the wall, out the door, and onto the sidewalk. The general tone of the conversation is ugly. A young woman has gotten inside with a wheelchair, but the restroom is not well designed and her chair cannot be brought into the one accessible stall, so must be left out by the sinks. There is no room for others to move in or out. The line moves very slowly. I leave the refectory 10 minutes later.

I am now on the south side of the lake. As I approach the concrete pad where the Porta-potty used to be I can hear a child screaming and crying, “Daddy, I have to go-o-o-o!!!”

The boy's father is saying, "Okay buddy, okay, we’ll fix it, shhh, okay."

And he leaves their bikes by the path, walks the boy down to the shore, turns his back to the walkers and bikers behind him and gently helps his son urinate against a tree trunk. Four small well-dressed adults carrying cameras stop and take pictures, walking away speaking in a South American dialect of Spanish.

I am so proud of my Park Board Commissioners! I understand the commissioners have a meeting coming up soon this month. Why not vote to put public urination and sanitation issues to rest by putting all the chemical toilets back?

Hmmmmmm…let’s see: $60,000 for the cost of public toilets for 2003 versus one Minneapolis Parks assistant superintendent’s salary … hmmm … .

Deborah Morse-Kahn is director of Linden Hills' Regional Research Associates. Editor's note: the Park Board is expected to reconsider closing its chemical toilets at an April 16 meeting, too late to be reported in this issue of the Journal.