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Sandy McPherson Carrubba Geary: Any port in a storm at summer festivals

It’s summer, that glorious time of festivals, outdoor concerts and huge gatherings. Think beer tents and grilled anything offered for enjoyment. Music and the scent of food cooking drifts through the warm air. Nearby suddenly nearly everyone hears a voice from a small person yell, “Mommy, I have to go to the bathroom!”

So it is also that time of year when rows of portable restrooms line up waiting for users. These temporary comfort stations line parks like birds on a tree limb. Although these inventions make us more comfortable while pursuing summer fun, they are not the stuff summer memories are made of, except when they are.

One year, a friend and I attended an outdoor jazz festival. Before darkness set in, we were allowed by kindly shopkeepers in the friendly village to use their facilities. We gladly did. But after the sun had set, we had no choice but to use one of the porta-potties lined up for festivalgoers’ comfort.

My friend entered one of the stalls and could not see the lock or much of anything else, so she held onto the handle while she made herself more comfortable. Just as she was about to restore her clothing, the door was jerked open by a burly male, making my friend flash the line of those waiting to use the portable toilet, unintentionally, of course.

The man apologized. But she felt mortified when she returned to our seats and told me what had happened. For the rest of the night, she kept her head down so no one would recognize her. I opted to wait for relief until we reached home.

Usually the line is so long, I give up waiting and do as I did that night and delay refreshing myself until I have reached the privacy of my own bathroom.

There have been times I have changed my mind once I entered a portable facility and saw the insects ready to snack on me. I don’t have that problem at home.

There is a certain etiquette when waiting in line for the portable facility. The first in line should be the first served, so to speak. That does not always go as planned.

Sometimes, those who have enjoyed too much libation must find relief quickly. I have seen arguments and near fisticuffs when someone tries to cut in line. Everyone is there for the same reason and expects fair treatment. Some places do not seem to anticipate their visitors’ need and do not have enough units.

The portable toilet industry got its start when dock workers in Long Beach, Calif., needed restrooms closer to where they unloaded ships. Back in the 1940s, wooden and metal portable toilets provided relief for workers but were heavy to transport and smelly when used. That California, always trying to be a leader!

A lot happened in the 1960s, including George Harding receiving a U.S. patent for a polyethylene plastic portable toilet. That invention was easier to clean and transport. The rest is history, and comfort for the masses who attend outdoor events.

I like the ones that always have enough supplies. At the Farmer’s Market in San Diego, Calif., there is a sink with paper towels so you can wash up. Now that’s a luxury I haven’t yet found around Western New York.

So as this summer wanes, we may see each other in line at a relief station – if there’s nothing else around.

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