The urge came on with sudden intensity, just like in the TV commercials. Apparently, men my age are often overcome by the pressing need to “go.” Normally this would not be a problem, because I’m rarely far from an appropriate facility. But not this time. This time I was in serious trouble. An emergency stop could incriminate me as a flasher, as police were still searching for the man who exposed himself and frightened a group of elementary school children in the area.
I walk every day during my lunch hour, from my office near Pfeiffer University up to Freedom Park in Charlotte, NC. Although the walk gives me a chance to get some always needed exercise, of equal importance is the opportunity to clear my head. Getting outside to knock out four miles is as much about my mental health as it is my physical health, and I jokingly tell co-workers that the walk saves many lives, possibly even theirs. I always return in a better mood, the stresses of the morning discarded along the way.
On this day, I departed alone, unlike most days where I am joined by a co-worker or two. The skies were still overcast from rain earlier in the morning, and the late autumn day was cool and damp. I felt confident the rain was over, but no one else shared that confidence.
The first pangs began at the farthest point from my office. I knew from experience that I had a little bit of time; these were warning pangs. Still, I needed to start formulating a plan, because I likely would not be able to make it the entire way back. I considered going further into the park--surely there would be restrooms somewhere. But what if there weren’t, or what if there were, but they were still a quarter mile, half mile away? Time was pressing too, and the further I went into the park, the more explaining I would have to do for the extended lunch hour. An unsuccessful search would mean that much more distance to back track.
I decided on a plan from my limited options. I would head back to the office as quickly as my body would let me, and hope for the best. Maybe I would get lucky and make it. The pangs had subsided for now, though I knew they would return. This was not my first time at the rodeo. I knew how this worked. Pangs, release, pangs, release, the pangs lasting a little longer each time until they came to stay and the pressure demanded release. I had to make time now while the getting was good.
The first leg back to the greenway was through a neighborhood. Nice enough people, I’m sure, living in McMansions behind manicured lawns. But certainly no one who would feel comfortable with a strange man knocking on their door and asking to use their facilities. If I was bleeding or dying, I would ask them to call 911, but this situation was not a true emergency, it was emergency lite. I thought of sneaking behind some hedges, but the potential consequences quickly shut that option down.
Best to get back to the greenway where there was wooded cover. As I entered that leg of the walk, I began to dissect every square foot. There was remarkably little privacy to be had. Houses lined the street to my left. All of the leaves had fallen, leaving the trees bare and skeletal, and the wooded area between the paved walkway and the creek was so thin I could see through it to the houses on the opposite side. This leg offered no reasonable option.
The pangs returned, longer in duration, before subsiding again. My mind and bladder began to play tug of war, each side claiming dominance. The internal struggle took a toll, and I feared a panic attack on top of everything else. I could feel my face flushing, and I was breaking out in a cold sweat. Calm down, I kept telling myself. This is not helping.
Approaching Hillside Avenue, a short connector between greenway sections, I remembered the bridge that crosses the creek. Dark shadowed corners lurking under the bridge could not be seen from any angle, regardless of the time of year. This would be the perfect place to take care of business, if I could get down to the creek. Desperation turned to hope, until I got closer. The bank was steep and treacherous. In my youth, I would not have hesitated, but a small amount of wisdom has come with age. I quickly rejected this possibility.
The next leg of greenway was the most heavily wooded of all, but it was also the riskiest. This was the area recently highlighted on the local news. When the broadcast first aired, I got excited as I thought, “This is where I walk everyday!” Then I remembered I was watching the news, so whatever was going on there was probably not good. And it was not. Not mass murderer bad, just a run of the mill flasher. According to the reporter, extra police would be patrolling the area surrounding the Montessori school on top of the hill.
I did not want to have to explain to a passing cop that I was not a sexual deviant, but a man with a physiological issue, only to have them arrest me for flashing anyway. In my nightmare fantasy they would decide the children’s descriptions did in fact match me and brand me a serial flasher. Sexual Predator registry, ostracized from friends and family, fired from my job. No matter how intense the pangs of pressure, I had to keep moving through here.
My mind was merciless in its ramblings, leaving me unsure of its allegiance in the tug of war. Songs like “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” and “Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls” alternated. Not helpful, I told myself. Think of something else. Try singing the whole score of Evita—you used to know that. You’ll be back at the office before Argentina doesn’t cry for her. No luck—my mind determined to punish me for all my sins, real or imagined.
A trip to Amsterdam came to mind, but all I could remember were the freestanding urinals spread throughout the city: step right up, let it rip, and be on your way. I began to question the world class quality of my home city, until my mind took control again and started the strains of “Cry Me a River.” Sweat was running down my back as panic once again threatened.
I had made it to the last section of greenway before returning to civilization. If I could reach Woodlawn Road, the first and best place to go would be Taco Bell. Oh sure, they might have something to say about me using their facilities without being a paying customer, but I doubted the police would be called. Two thoughts came to me back to back. The first was, “Taco Bell bathroom at lunchtime.” Could there be a worse place to go? The second thought was defining, “You’re not going to make it that far.”
Again I began to dissect every foot of the upcoming walkway, weighing privacy and visibility from all sides. Houses to the left, three-story apartment buildings and the back of Park Road Shopping Center to the right. The only trees of any size were scattered between the paved walkway and the road. I had to get down to the creek; it was the only remaining option.
The perfect place came to mind. Around the next bend less than 50 yards away, large flat boulders were bunched on the side and a white sandy path sloped gently down from them to the creek. Many days during the summer months, the rocks tempted me to stop and lie back, soaking up the warm rays of the sun as if I were on a beach.
Given the dreary day, I doubted anyone would be hanging out on the rocks, and I was right, it was completely deserted. Across the creek was the back of service buildings behind the shopping center so there would be no pedestrian traffic. Arriving at the bottom of the path and the banks of the creek, I realized that anyone passing by on the paved walkway would see only my head and shoulders—the important stuff shielded from view by the slope of the bank. My footprints were the first through the rain-leveled sands, with no one in sight in any direction.
The pangs locked my bladder. This was the end. I stood with my back to the creek. The shorts had no fly, so I pulled the front down just far enough, and waited until my body could relax and allow the flow to begin. The mind conceded defeat to the bladder, but the bladder was angry from abuse and slow to relax.
The process seemed to take hours, waiting for the first drops to fall, the stream a mere trickle before finally building to full steam. I kept vigilant watch for on-comers, though I had no choice but to stand there. Finally, and mercifully, I was done. Physically and mentally drained, I pulled my pants back up, trekked up the sand path to the paved walkway, and made my way back to my office.
I thought again of the flasher, how easily I could have been mistaken for one, standing exposed on the banks of the creek waiting for relief. I wondered if he was a flasher at all—flashers wear trench-coats, not biking shorts. Perhaps he was someone like me, using the greenway to improve his physical and mental health. Someone caught with a sudden and pressing need. Someone in search of a safe place to go, and no hope in sight.