Portable-Toilets: The Inauguration Holy Grail

9:15 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., On the National Mall, near the Washington Monument. I didn’t really have to piss, I

9:15 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., On the National Mall, near the Washington Monument.

I didn’t really have to piss, I just went with Nick because I thought it would be a good idea to get it out of the way before the crowds really hit, before it would be impossible to get there. And I didn’t want him to go alone. At 10:00, it wasn’t that crowded on the hill in front of the Washington Monument—we had enough space to sit down—but all the same, there were a lot of people and not much to distinguish one crowd of bundled-up onlookers from another. So I left our comfortable plot and headed toward the portables.

We ended up five feet from the portables, but there was no way we were getting to them. Elevated flower beds, chain-rope fences denoting what-were-usually-walkways, and the placement of the facilites in question, had transformed the field into a corral. People were crammed against the sides of the bathrooms, some scrambling to escape the crush by climbing on top (to greater or lesser success), but most were pushing back against the incoming waves of would-be-pee-ers and the had-been-shoved.

We were packed so tightly, caught between the pressure of the cripple falling back into us and of the chain behind us, that I couldn’t raise my hand to wipe my nose. People were angry. They pushed at us. “What are you doing blocking me hun?” “We were here first!” “You’re going to have to move.” We apologized, said we were trapped, bowed our heads.

Not five minutes after we got ensnared in the portable toilets pen, did we hear a woman’s voice pierce the general hubbub of the crowd, screaming, “Makay! Makay! Has anyone seen my baby? Answer your mama, Makay!” Next to me, pushing through the crowd, a red-lipsticked brown face emerged, streaming with tears, eyes panicked, sound coming from her in short gasps, “Makay! Makay! Makay! Where are you? Your mama’s calling!” She pushed on in front of us to shouts of “Make way! Make way! She’s looking for her kid!”

Nick and I looked at one another and agreed that, despite the meaningful occasion, this was no place for children.