Pitstops, Pisspots, and Passports

by Tom Sylvest, Jr.

March 13, 2024

On the late afternoon of our second day in Ireland, we experienced rush hour on the N22 just west of Cork. We survived another day of driving on the left side of the road, but this time, we joined the throngs on this major highway, intent on getting away from work. The skies opened with a pounding rainstorm, adding to my driving anxiety.

Kathleen worked diligently to be the best copilot she could be. She had learned to locate us on her iPhone and managed the map display in our SUV rental. She excels when playing vital roles we need while tripping through a vacation. I know no one better at putting on various hats, such as a copilot, navigator, historian, tour guide, travel agent, or concierge.

In this instance, she searched lodging websites, trying to find a place where we could settle in for the evening. At her suggestion, we headed for Killarney, West of Cork. Outside of Dublin, Killarney has the most hotels, bed and breakfasts, and residences for travelers.

The road and traffic completely occupied me. I did not notice my copilot’s distress. I asked if she was okay.

She said, “I’ll need to go to the restroom very soon.”

“We can get off at the next exit. Can you find somewhere we could stop?”

She said, “No. I can wait. Let’s get past this traffic. I’d hate for you to have to get off the road and try to get back on.” She is thoughtful that way, and she knows I pout when taken off my course. In thirty-plus years of road travel together, we have learned each other’s tendencies.

We agreed to travel a bit more, but it was clear to me she needed a restroom immediately. The exit signs on the highway gave me plenty of time to change lanes and prepare to get off the highway. I didn’t know where we might end up and what services would be available. I told her I was committed to getting her some relief, but I needed her help identifying what was beyond the upcoming exits. I didn’t want to end up in a rural area with no stores or petrol stations. That would have exacerbated the situation.

She found an exit that would take us to a road to reach a convenience store and, hopefully, a restroom. With little trouble, I changed lanes, exited easily, and began our search for the store. Many other vehicles took the same exit, so we did not move as fast as we had hoped. A few miles down the road, a police car sat in the road, lights flashing. We crawled past the fender bender and the policeman working the accident. At last, we came upon the store. I pulled over and told Kathleen to hurry inside while I found a place to park. She hopped out and rushed in. I moved into an empty parking space and waited for Kathleen.

Time passed slowly, so I decided to take advantage of the stop to use the restroom and gather supplies for the evening. I locked the SUV and went inside the store. About fifteen minutes had passed since Kathleen had entered the store. I fully expected to see her down one of the aisles shopping for snacks or pouring a soft drink. I searched the aisles, and Kathleen was not there. I couldn’t imagine she was still in the restroom.

I went to the register counter. A few people stood in the checkout line, and two employees attended to them. I approached the counter and didn’t get in line. I only wanted to ask them where the restroom was located.

Once I got the young woman's attention behind the counter, I asked, “Where is your restroom?”

“Excuse me?” she said with a frown.

“Your restroom? Where is it?”

She said, “Sir, we don’t have restrooms.”

“Of course you do. My wife came in here to use yours,” I explained.

The clerk looked at me, puzzled, and said, “I’m sorry. No one came in here, and we don’t have restrooms.”

“You don’t have restrooms?” I asked incredulously. “Well, where did my wife go? I saw her come in here. She didn’t disappear,” I declared, becoming agitated.

“Sir, no one came in here.”

A gentleman at the counter intervened, trying to be helpful. He said to the clerk, “What he is saying is that his wife came in here to use your toilet. When he says restroom, he means toilet.” I had just learned an important lesson. As Shaw, Wilde, or Churchill once said, “Americans and the English are people divided by a common language.” In this case, the Americans and the Irish were divided.

“No one came in here to use the toilet. No one asked to use the toilet. I didn’t see anyone come in here.” She asked her coworker, “Did you talk to anyone who wanted to use the toilet?”

He shook his head with, “No!”

She turned to me, clearly frustrated, “I’m sorry, Sir.”

“I’m gonna wait right here until my wife comes out. She’s definitely in here somewhere,” I demanded while I found a position near the exit door.

After a few minutes, I decided to cruise the store again. I went down each aisle. I went to the butcher area. I looked behind the deli counter. I peeked into the storeroom area. I couldn’t find a “restroom,” “toilet,” “ladies’ room,” “powder room,” “little boy’s room,” “the head,” “the john,” “the water closet,” or “latrine.”

Even more time elapsed, and the mystery grew.

I regained my perch near the exit, determined that Kathleen had to be in the store somewhere and she wouldn’t get by me.

While I explored the store, I noticed the policeman we had seen up the road had entered the store and was shopping. He reached the register, put his items on the counter, spoke to the clerk, and approached me.

He asked, “Sir, what seems to be the problem?”

“My wife has disappeared,” I told him. I explained what I knew.

He suggested, “Can we step outside and discuss this?”

Now, I was alarmed. I began imagining all kinds of crazy stuff. I just knew I was going to be an international human interest story. I could see the headline, “American Loses Wife At Pee Stop!” I kept my head, but worry ate me up.

We stepped outside while the constable gathered basic information about me and my wife. He added to my agitation when he asked if I had our passports.

I said, “Yes, they’re in the car.”

“Let’s go to your car, Sir.”

I found our passports and handed them to him.

“Sir, would you mind sitting in the SUV with your hands on the wheel? I’ll search the store for your wife. I’ll be back.”

I followed his directions. He had a take-charge attitude and a calming, friendly manner, but I assure you, my stress was off the charts. My heart was beating fast. I could feel sweat beading up on my forehead. Typically, I’m not an anxious person, so these feelings were very foreign. I sat tight. I don’t know how long I sat there, but it felt like half an hour. Though my imagination worked overtime, I got a grip with faith that things would be okay.

Suddenly, rounding the corner of the building, Kathleen and the policeman came chatting away with smiles. They came to the SUV, and I rolled down the window.

“Can I get out?” I inquired.

I didn’t wait for an answer. I got out, terribly confused. Before I could find out what happened, the policeman handed me our passports, and Kathleen informed me, “Kieran was in Baton Rouge for his honeymoon last year. How about that?”

I could not contain my relief. My wife hadn’t disappeared. She returned to me safe and sound. After a pleasant visit with Kieran, our new friend, we got into the SUV and returned to the main highway to continue our trip.

Kathleen explained what happened to her. After a frustrating search around the store, she found the “restroom” without inquiring at the cash register. She said the register folks seemed busy, and she couldn’t wait. She had circumvented the counter and headed down a perimeter aisle.

It’s not my place to explain what happened in the “toilet.” She just needed more time than a typical rest stop.

She heard my side of the story, and we had a good laugh. I told her, “I never imagined stopping to use the restroom would involve our passports. I hope it’s not a thing.”

She got her relief, and I got mine. Obviously, our reliefs came in two very different varieties.

Our subsequent pitstops were boring.