The day started well enough. Lake Michigan was like glass as we glided over its smooth surface aboard the Lake Express high-speed ferry. I was on my way to a business meeting near Grand Rapids, Michigan, departing Milwaukee on the 6 a.m.
The ferry ported and when I disembarked I had a little less than 2 hours until my meeting--more than enough time to make way towards a Muskegon area Starbucks, enjoy a cup of coffee, check some emails and properly prepare for a meeting of an undetermined length, if you know what I mean. (Long distance runners, you KNOW what I mean.)
Starbucks found, I paid no attention to the municipal utility vehicles parked in the street out front as I pulled into the parking lot. I parked my rental, grabbed my briefcase and made a beeline for the Men's room. Within, I set my briefcase in the corner furthest from the commode and prepared to answer Mother Nature's call.
No sooner had I relinquished control of those physiological faculties that separate adult humans from infants, I felt water on my backside. My first thought was that this toilet must have an automatic flush and somehow I had triggered it.
"Oh oh," I thought. "Let's hope it's nothing too, um, violent."
Five seconds after that thought, water sprung forth by the gallon between my legs and shot across to the opposite side of the restroom wall. I'm not sure if I was ejected from the pot or instinctively tightened my muscles and popped off of it, but a second later, I stood in the corner of the room, pants at ankle level, protecting my briefcase from the muddy spray bursting forth.
It was happening: the American business traveler's worst nightmare.
I watched in horror as the raging beast continued to blast excrement against the walls and floors. In fact, with such great force that even the ceiling became moistened. I was trapped in perpetuity in a 6' x 6' tiled room that was raining organic waste collected from the fine folks of Fruitport Township, Michigan.
When you're stuck in that position, you can never be quite certain how much time is passing. After what I'm guessing was most of two minutes, Ol' Faithful had finally subsided. Now to collect myself and figure out what to do. Some details are better left unwritten, but there was still a working sink and soap dispenser, so that seemed a good place to start.
I cleaned up the best I could and returned my trousers to their upright position causing a sensation that I hope never to feel again: sewage water drenched pants and shirt against my bare legs and back.
I knew the path from the restroom door was short, and there was only one table nearby. My goal was to get outside as deftly as possible, but also grab the attention of an employee and let them know that we had a situation here.
As luck would have it, the table nearest the door was hosting a meeting of three employees. I darted past and asked "You guys work here?" One fellow said "Yes," and I summoned him to join me outside.
He gave me a look that I'll remember for the rest of my life. It was one of those "What kind of a nut is this?" looks.
As I explained what had happened to me "in there," he continued to look at me with doubting suspicion, but he did ask what he could do to help.
I said, "Well, I came here to get a coffee. How 'bout we start with that?"
"Certainly," he said and went in to retrieve my drink.
I can only imagine what he said to the other employees in those ensuing moments. I bet they still talk about it today! (Remember that one time when a customer was trapped in a poop fountain in our restroom? Ha ha ha!)
A moment after he returned with my coffee, another employee popped out of the door and said, "It happened in the Women's room, too! And now the water is running into the restaurant from underneath the door!"
Thank you, women's restroom plumbing situation, for verifying that my story was true and proving that I wasn't just some clod who plugged the Men's room toilet and made of a mess of myself in effort to get a free coffee.
Now fully realizing the situation, the Starbucks team was nothing but commendable. They pointed across the parking lot to a shopping mall where I could buy some new clothes. If I did so, I could return with the receipt and they would fully reimburse me. As I put my stuff into the car and headed over to Younkers, I could see the manager head over to the utility workers in the street to find out just what the heck was going on.
Over at Younkers I explained the situation after I picked out some new under garments, a shirt and slacks. The lady who helped me was great, too. She cleared my items of pins and stickers and hung them on a rack where she expertly steamed them. When I walked out, I looked like a million bucks. Well, a million and $71 actually, because $71 was the price of my new threads.
Back at Starbucks they promptly reimbursed me and we had a bit of a chuckle over it. The manager said the utility worker said, "Gee, I've never heard of that happening before!" In addition to buying my new clothes, they gave me a few coupons for free coffees.
That was really great of Starbucks. It really wasn't their fault, but they went out of the way to help a traveling customer trapped in a most unfortunate situation. The Younkers attendant, too, was wonderful.
So how's that for an traveler's story? My new clothes are nice, but I'd prefer never to have had to buy them in that manner!
Related: I wrote the above a few days ago, but today I received a call from Fruitport Township's Utilities Manager expressing his sincere apologies for the unfortunate incident. He said that the next time I'm in Fruitport, I should give him a ring and lunch is on Fruitport. That's very nice.
Related II: No major harm was done and looking back at this nearly 2-week old story, I find it pretty darn funny. What would you do in the same situation?