In Huron Village neighborhood of Cambridge, MA, money can buy almost anything. Dover sole flown in from Europe? No problem -- $30/Lb. Foie gras? We've got that too -- $40 for a few ounces. Pierre Poilâne's bread, Ligurian olive oil, 50 year old balsamic vinegar? We've got all those, and no, you probably don't want to hear the price. But this isn't a rant about how much we pay for gastronomic luxuries. These ingredients take great effort and expense to bring here, and an even greater expense to display (considering the cost of real estate in Cambridge). So why can't we put a price tag on other luxuries, like public bathrooms?
I've never noticed how difficult it is to find a place to relieve your bladder, until I became 6 months pregnant. My daily exercise these days is walking. I try to walk 2-3 miles every day and if I can walk with a purpose, like having lunch and buying groceries, I am even happier. The best place to kill those two birds with one stone is to walk to Huron Village. Not only can you get a wonderful sandwich at Formaggio Kitchen, but you can get some great cheeses, cured meats, and breads to take home. Then you can stop at fishmonger called "Fishmonger" next door, and the Fresh Pond Market a few blocks up to get your meats and veggies. It's a perfect way to spend my lunch break, and I try to get out on this walk as much as possible.
The problem is that it takes me about an hour to get to Formaggio and back, and then I usually spend another hour getting lunch and groceries. That's 2 hours total, which is too long for me to go without a bathroom these days. I tried everything -- going to the bathroom 2 seconds before leaving the house, not drinking too much for an hour or so, and speeding up my shopping. It's still incredibly difficult for me to make it there and back unless I stop drinking for hours before leaving the house, which is not a good idea. But I was sure with all those gourmet shops, and lunch places, there would be some place for me to use a bathroom while I am having lunch and shopping.
I smiled sweetly at the lady at Formaggio's counter and asked if it would be possible to use their facilities. She smiled sweetly back, and said that their bathroom is not for customers. Last time, I lucked out with whoever was at the cash register when I explained that I was pregnant, had "no bladder", and walked 30 minutes to get there. I tried this trick again, but this time I wasn't as lucky. "Would you happen to know of a place around here that would let me use a bathroom?" I asked. "Oh, I really don't know," she replied sweetly. "Maybe, Sarah's cafe a few blocks from here..."
I walked to Sarah's cafe hoping for the best. It looked promising. They had 10 or so tables and were serving sit-down lunch. "Surely they have a bathroom," I thought. I asked the guy at the lunch counter if I could use it. "It's not for customers," he replied. "Is there any public bathroom around here?" I asked desperately. He said he didn't know. I was getting so tired of this wild goose chase that I was willing to offer him $5 to use his bathroom, but somehow I didn't think this was going to work. I tried the pregnancy clause again. "Please sir," I pleaded, "I am pregnant, and I walked 30 minutes to get here." "You are pregnant?" he said with a startled look on his face as if I was about to go into labor right in his dining room. "That's a different story then. Right this way." I guess the pregnancy thing works better on men than women. You'd think a woman would be more sympathetic to my predicament. But fear is easier to get in Huron Village than sympathy I guess. And men are scared of pregnant women -- who knows what they might do! I thanked the nice man from the bottom of my heart, bought a cup of tea, left a very generous tip, and continued on my lunch and shopping trip.
I certainly appreciate the European feel of Huron Village -- the cute stores, pretty sidewalks, and opportunity to walk everywhere. But they didn't have to make it so authentic that the bathroom situation is as terrible as it is in France. I understand that there is no such thing as a free lunch (or bathroom), particularly at our real estate prices. I just think we can combine our free market economy with French joie de vivre. If there is money to be made in Dover sole and foie gras, there's got to be money in bathrooms.
p.s. if you happen to live in this area and know of a public bathroom on Huron Ave., please let me know.