All Too Human

Mike Rowe and the Port-a-Potty

Saw this comment from Josh Thayer, in response to a recent photo of me holding a cup of Starbucks coffee:

“Please don’t support the corporate monster that is Starbucks coffee. Support local coffee purveyors Mike!”

Josh – Though I do support the makers of local coffee with frequent purchases, I don’t see much “evil” in successful corporations. However, if there is such a thing as justice in this world, you may find some in the following true story…

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In my ongoing quest to maintain the illusion of fitness, I got up once again this morning and jogged across the Golden Gate Bridge. Fueled by a Venti Latte and a double shot of espresso, I left the local Starbucks with my usual levels of energy and ambition, eager to meet the new day and shed a few pounds.

It was a perfect morning. The sun crept over the San Francisco skyline, lighting up the bridge in that specific shade of orange unique to The Golden Gate. The bay shimmered below me in hues of silver and blue, the Marin Headlands twinkled in the distance like a pile of massive emeralds, and a soft breeze off the ocean cooled the sweat on my face. All was right with the world. However, as I reached the Sausalito side and turned back for home, something went horribly wrong.

Technically, I guess it was a cramp, but it felt more like an ice pick tearing into what personal trainers now call the “core.” This wasn’t a “runners stitch” brought about a lack of oxygen. This was something else altogether – a stabbing sensation that literally knocked the wind out of me before vanishing as quickly as it appeared.

Stunned by the sudden pain and gasping for breath, I began to consider the wisdom of that extra espresso when another cramp flew into my guts on the tip of a spear, this one somewhere below my belly button and even more painful than the first.

Clearly, the Starbucks Venti Latte had made it to my colon, where it now conspired with last night’s prime rib and lobster mashed potatoes. Their plan – as best I could tell – seemed to involve an immediate and unscheduled exit from my large intestines.

Like Al Roker and millions of other mostly continent Americans, I am all too human. And yes, I too was once betrayed by that small yet critical muscle that preserves our dignity and separates us from the animals. In fact, some years ago I had a serious conversation with a publisher about compiling a collection of true stories of successful adults who had somehow managed to crap their pants in public. (I swear it’s true.) The details were never flushed out, so to speak, but I couldn’t help but think that a catastrophic failure in the middle of The Golden Gate Bridge would be hard to top. Regardless, it was not an honor I aspired to.

The situation was dire, and I was appalled at how quickly things had devolved. I was about two and half miles from home, and began to calculate the time to my personal toilet if I maintained a steady speed of 7 mph: about 18 minutes. No good. I figured I might have 10 minutes before the ultimate humiliation – maybe less, and concluded that the odds were very much against getting off the bridge unsullied. As if to confirm my fears, another spasm arrived, and this one brought tears to my eyes. Like labor pains, the interval between each successive cramp was becoming shorter and shorter. This was not the “call of nature.” This was more like a shriek.

Obviously, standing still would not fix the problem, and while running was no less risky, it would at least get me closer to a commode. And so I ran. Like Forrest Gump I ran for my life. Every step was a new dimension in pain, and I knew my lower GI tract would soon declare a complete and total mutiny. So I not only ran – I prayed. I prayed for mercy and kindness. I prayed for control. I prayed for some divine intervention, and miracle of miracles, my prayers were answered.

Pictured above is me, a Porta-Potty, and two guys from Vulcan Construction, who happened to be working (on a sewer main of all things) about a mile from my apartment. That’s Larry on the left. He sent me this photo after taking it with my thanks. I didn’t get the other guy’s name, but I’m indebted to them both. As you may know, Porta-Potties on construction sites are not meant for use by the general public, and most of them in San Francisco are locked up when not in use. Thankfully – for both me and the community at large – the men at Vulcan are not proprietary with their Porta-Potty. They allowed me quick access, and asked only for a simple photo in return. I would have given so much more.

I’ll spare you the details of what happened inside. Suffice it to say I made it to a seated posture with maybe half a second to spare, and unleashed what Larry called an homage to Bastille Day. (Construction workers are funnier than you think.)

Likewise, the particulars of my final sprint across the Golden Gate are best left to the imagination. Though I can tell you that many an early morning commuter caught a glimpse of the Dirty Jobs Guy in full flight, stopping every 50 feet to scream frantically at the heavens while making the only face one can possibly make when his entire purpose in life is to not disgrace himself on a national landmark.

On the positive side, I don’t think I’ve ever lost more weight on a 5-mile run.

Thanks, Starbucks!