A Glimpse of (Bathroom) Hell in Prospect Park Heaven
The outhouses scattered throughout the park are not ready for summer.
8:00 AM EDT on May 26, 2023
Scene: It's a beautiful Sunday in May. You're in Prospect Park's Long Meadow, surrounded by a thousand bottles of natural day-drunk wine, rank hard seltzers, sodas and other liquids of the nonalcoholic variety, and assorted Modelo six-packs. All of these liquids must be processed through the human body after they have done their job of making a simply perfect day even more pleasurable—and hydrated.
Soon, you begin to feel that tell-tale pressure. The closest bathroom is 15 minutes away at Grand Army Plaza, and you know you'll wait another 20 minutes on a line. You also know that a cascade cannot be stopped—it can only be redirected. Like young, lusty peasants running off into the woods following the communal harvest ceremony, pairs of park goers begin disappearing into the scattered woods surrounding the meadow to relieve themselves, a haphazard and improvised solution to a longstanding public infrastructure failure. One stands lookout, the other squats, then the roles reverse. In the reverie of release, a question lingers:
Where, oh where, on this divine, sun-drenched day, to legally pee?
Last year, Hell Gate gave you a sprinkling of information regarding Prospect Park’s lingering potty problems, providing grisly scenes from a port-a-potty near the Vale.
This time, we approached one on the park's Long Meadow, possibly its lone line of defense for those who want to relieve themselves within four walls in the park's northernmost, and most popular, reaches.
First, the stench—it wafted. As I approached the port-a-potty, located near the East Drive, I easily picked up a strong antiseptic smell, mixed with urine. Its prodigious spread could be chalked up to the small stream of liquid slowly snaking down the hillside behind the lavatory. Those rivulets spoke to something ghastly behind the door of this particular loo.
And sure enough, when I dared to open the door, regret bloomed, as well as deep, unadulterated despair at what had transpired within. Parkgoers had, by the end of the weekend, simply pissed the crapper full. Unmistakably, in the brief glimpses I allowed myself, were visions of feces adrift, scat in the modular attached urinal, flies a-whirring, a pit of waste. Revelers could not hold it in, a deluge the port-a-potty simply could not contain. A vision of a world undone, another dimension, not of sight, nor sound, but of shit. Yikes!
Last year, when we asked about the state of the grisly Vale outhouse, the Alliance said that the dozen port-a-potties scattered across the park were serviced twice a week, and that if parkgoers wanted to voice their concerns, they could email email@example.com.
We reached out again this week, and it appears that nothing has changed.
"NYC Parks has been alerted to the state of the portasans and will address this," an Alliance spokesperson told us in an email. "Please note that NYC Parks is staffing up for the summer season, and once they staff up, there will be additional capacity to more rigorously inspect the state of the portasans."
The spokesperson noted that more permanent restrooms will open up as part of the Vale restoration and the building of the new Shirley Chisholm Welcome Center (estimated time of completion: 2026 and TBD, respectively), but also pointed us to a campaign to get Mayor Eric Adams to keep the promise he made before becoming mayor to allocate one percent of the City's budget to Parks, given that City parks cover 14 percent of the entire city.
I ended up fleeing that shitshow and finding a spot in a secluded part of the woods, just feet away from a volleyball game where I'm pretty sure no one could see me. While physical bathrooms are great, no one who frequents the Long Meadow would object to there being three or four portable restrooms strategically placed and cleaned with relative frequency during the popular summer months. It would be…a great relief.
Long Meadow Port-a-Potty-From-Hell: 0.666/10
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Max Rivlin-Nadler is a co-publisher of Hell Gate. He's reported for Gothamist, The New York Times, Village Voice and NPR. You can find him walking his dog, Stiva, or surfing in the Rockaways.
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