A new type of mile high club
Andy Rice // Associate Publisher
Here’s something you probably didn’t know about me: I’ve gone my entire life without pooping on a plane. I know it defies biology, luck and logic, but it’s true. Despite a transatlantic travel record that includes Munich, London, Barcelona and even South Africa, never once have I felt nature knockin’ at the back door during a flight, if you get my drift.
But, as they say, all good things must come to an end. And seeing how this column is devoted to the notion of finding myself on unfamiliar territory, I’m going to explain how I ended up breaking the streak at a comfortable cruising altitude of 39,000 feet. My editors didn’t even ask me to do it. It just happened. But man, there were a few moments there where I thought they must have rigged the whole thing.
For the record, my secret has always been coffee, consumed at exactly one hour and 42 minutes before final boarding call. I also try to avoid travelling before 10 a.m. whenever possible. I figure that by this point in the morning I’ll have a pretty good idea of what kind of a day it’s going to be, digestively-speaking.
The problem was, I wasn’t on my usual coast and the flight options were not working in my favour. I was in St. John’s, Newfoundland, and the only way out of there was on Porter Airlines Flight 222, with a departure time of 8 a.m. I didn’t notice when I booked it, but this route is what they call the “milk run”, featuring a series of stopovers and pickups in Halifax and Ottawa en route to Toronto. That’s three complete takeoffs and landings in the span of four hours! So, understandably, by the time we’d slammed onto the tarmac at Macdonald-Cartier Airport, my guts were in absolute knots. In the words of Obi-Wan Kenobi, I felt a great disturbance in the force, and I was left with no further options other than to unbuckle my seatbelt and head to the front of the fuselage.
Having never had a reason to visit an airplane lavatory before, you can imagine my sheer horror as I pushed open the door and realized the unfathomable limitations of the space at hand. “That’s it?!” I muttered to myself as I sized up a tiny alcove that would make a PortaPotti at the PNE look roomy.
Next thing I knew, I was squatting over an opening the size of a large funnel, spine firmly pressed against the back wall, hips touching the side walls, one elbow in the tissue receptacle and the other resting on the sink counter.
The toilet paper dispenser was completely obscured by my right knee, which I eventually accessed by sticking my arm straight upward, kinking it at the elbow and then twisting forward and downward again, sort of like a weird bathroom version of the butterfly stroke. When my contorted hand finally met the roll, it was emptier than my bowels.
Frantically, I began searching for a replacement, patting at cupboards and hatches that might lead to some good news. Nothing.
I wiggled my elbow out of the tissue receptacle to find one lonely sheet waiting for me inside. I rationed it as best I could and then began to size up some less-desirable substitutes: wallpaper, signage labels, even my own socks. Thankfully, there were a few paper towels left beside the sink, though they were taking up precious real estate in the bowl at an alarming rate. A midway maintenance flush would have been ideal had I been able to reach the button, but I had no choice but to just power through and hope for the best.
By this time, I’d been in there about 10 minutes and I could hear the chatter of a line forming outside the door. I’m sure they all wondered what was happening as my panicked limbs thunked repeatedly against the door and interior walls. Little did they know, I was in the throes of a delicate dance: flushing and cleaning, thinking and calculating, cursing and begging, wiping and waiting.
After what seemed like an eternity, I’d finally gotten myself back to a sanitized (though very traumatized) state of being. I stood up, shimmied around and pressed the flush button, ready to put this experience behind me.
I pressed it again. Nothing. And again. Nothing. And again. Nothing.
Finally on the fifth try, the toilet gurgled meekly and offered up a pathetic trickle of blue Sani fluid. “Come on!” I shouted. “The elderly blow out their birthday candles with more force than that!”
It tried its best, with a sputter here and a burp there, but it didn’t have nearly the pressure needed to contend with my makeshift paper deposits. After five more minutes, my handiwork was still sitting at the bottom of the bowl, looking as though someone had murdered a smurf.
Now freshly out of paper towels as well, I resumed my frantic search for suitable objects and did my best to ignore the impatient knocks on the door. A plunger wasn’t anywhere to be found, nor would it have been much help anyways. What I needed was something to prod the mass downward. A wedge… A shim… An empty toilet paper roll!
Yanking it from its socket, I began mashing it into the blue blob, and finally, with the help of some well-timed turbulence, managed to make my coil of shame vanish into oblivion.
I washed my hands four times, took a deep breath and opened the door to find 23 people standing there waiting, all in various stages of distress. Wouldn’t you know it, my seat-mate was at the very front of the line looking as though he was about to burst.
“No paper,” I muttered, as I made a beeline for one of the flight attendants. “Sorry!”
Halfway to the rear of the plane, I looked back just in time to see the co-pilot rush out of the cockpit and into the alcove I’d just called home for the last 40 minutes.
She didn’t emerge until it was time to land. I’m still not completely sure what she was wearing when she went in there, but I think it included socks and a scarf…