Apalachicola's pause that refreshes

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A case can be made that Riverfront Park is Apalachicola's touristy crown jewel.

My own opinion is that the crown jewel for tourists is not in the park, but is close by.

Thereby hangs a tale.

On Saturday, March 21, scarcely a parking place was to be had in downtown Apalachicola.

I had gone there to mail letters and buy pastries. The place was crowded!

I swivel-necked as I passed chatters and canines decorating the vicinity of the Oyster City Brewing Company and the post office. I saw no parking spaces there or along Commerce Street. I putt-putted toward Riverfront Park and the Apalachicola River, enjoying one of my favorite sports, people-watching.

My first view of the park revealed about 10 double rows of white folding chairs facing the bay, evidence of a wedding that either had been or would be held there amid plentiful sunshine and despite nippy (for Apalach) low-60s temperatures.

About then, my midsection started to distract my focus. I needed to visit a men's restroom.

I turned north along Water Street, easing past handholding couples, mothers pushing baby strollers and teenagers chatting and laughing. No place to park and mail letters or buy pastries. As I passed 13-Mile Seafood Market, my peripheral vision caught sight of the back of the Centennial Bank building that fronts on Market Street.

Aha!

Between Market Street, where the bank building is, and Water Street, where my pickup truck was, lies Commerce Street.

There, between Commerce Street and Water Street, facing east and backed up against the old Apalachicola Sponge Exchange building, lies my choice for the city's crown jewel: Its public restrooms.

Back home in our small town in western Pennsylvania, public restrooms are scarce. The county courthouse has some, true. But to get there, one needs to withstand the searching gaze of a sheriff's deputy, empty one's pockets into a plastic bowl and pass through a metal detector whose sensitivity sometimes requires more than one two-step back and forth beneath its arch.

That is about the last thing I need to try when I am urgently seeking a restroom. I circled north, then west, parked, and walked back toward the restroom building.

Happily, Apalachicola's version is in a specially built brick edifice smoothly designed to blend into the downtown's historic ambiance. Though there are steps to climb, a thoughtful ramp beckons those using canes or wheelchairs to ascend to the main level, where separate chambers admit men and women.

I used the men's restroom. Prudence dictated that I not inspect the women's facility, so I can only report what greets the gents.

In this instance, it was not perfection. The two urinals were encased in plastic sheeting and labeled "out of order." On the floor were a half-dozen crumpled and discarded brown paper towels.

Perfectionists might tut-tut at these.

I did not.

I sighed in relief at the sight of the two vacant toilet stalls, and emerged relieved and refreshed.

I turned toward Commerce Street and the back of the bank building and got a momentary chuckle.

There, facing me, was a shiny black metal park bench.

"A nice touch if someone is waiting for another person who is using the restroom," I thought at first.

Then came the chuckle. Might it not be a tad more dignified to turn the bench toward the street and the bank, lest visitors emerging from the restroom might be observed while still tucking in this or that?

As I strode toward the mailbox and the pastry store, I reflected on the experience.

Yes, the discretion-testing bench and the repair-needing plumbing were noticeable.

But the restroom was available! And, overall, clean and odor-free.

Such a presentable accommodation is not all that common in small towns where tourists can crowd and clog the small shops and restaurants.

In harsh-winter Pennsylvania, the weather forces most local governments to close free-standing public restrooms when temperatures drop below freezing, because heating them would be quite costly for fuel and equipment — and invite occupancy by vagrants, druggies, etc., with a high likelihood of vandalism.

Apalachicola's restroom has not appeared to be prone to undue abuse during my snowbird season visits, and that reflects well on the community's respect for itself.

The facility is not cost-free, of course. The community's willingness to provide for it and maintain it, making repairs as necessary and replenishing toilet paper and towels regularly, also says, "Welcome!" to tourists as well as visitors from residential areas in or near Apalach.

Such a little thing, a public restroom that is centrally located, easily accessible and reasonably maintained. Why would anyone bother to praise it, let alone consider it "crown jewel" material?

C'mon.

We all know the distress caused by impending bodily function requirements, for our children or ourselves. We usually don't talk about such things. But since we have to pay for such things through taxes or association contributions, we ought to acknowledge that, in this respect, Apalachicola welcomes downtown visitors in a most accommodating fashion.

Denny Bonavita is a former editor and publisher at daily and weekly newspapers in western Pennsylvania. He and his wife winter in Apalachicola. Email notniceman9@gmail.com

This article originally appeared on The Apalachicola Times: Apalachicola's pause that refreshes

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