Monday, August 23, 2010

A Quiz!

Question: What is worse than spending a morning at the Department of Motor Vehicles (a.k.a. the ServiceOntario office)?







Answer: Having a gastric attack after waiting in line and finally reaching the counter. And there being no restrooms on-site. And leaving without what you came for.

First a little background: [TMI alert! Quit reading NOW if bodily functions turn your stomach.]

According to my gastroenterologist, I have "microscopic" colitis - intestinal inflammation that shows up only under the microscope and results in chronic diarrhea, cramping and other unseemly afflictions. It's not severe, and is mostly well controlled by diet, but every so often it catches me off-guard -- and when it does, it can happen very suddenly. My biggest fear, like anyone else with chronic gastric trouble, is having an "accident" in public, which has never happened to me. I learned, early on, that when I'm having one of "those days" I don't dare even try to fart unless I am on a working toilet. And, like most people with this kind of disorder, I've become quite adept at scouting out restroom locations whenever I enter a public place.

(One of the fringe benefits of my last job was that our office was right beside the women's restroom!)

But, oh, there have been close calls, one of the most memorable being when I was directed to restrooms only to find that they were closed for renovations! I couldn't even bust in and disturb the cleaning staff - the plumbing was not connected.

So there I was this morning, trying to clear up one of the last pieces of bureaucracy from our move - registering our vehicles and getting plates for them. When Brian and I arrived at the office, there were six people in front of us. Not bad!

But as the minutes wore on, I gradually felt something building. The line moved slowly. The wave of urgency abated. I marked a doorway near the back of the room that I hoped might lead to a restroom, though there was no signage to indicate so. The line moved. The gastric wave began to crest again. I debated whether I should give up my spot in line and make a dash for the restroom. I was first in line. Dammit, I would just have to exercise that sphincter! I breathed. The wave abated.

About an hour into it, I finally made it to the counter. The efficient clerk flipped through the kazillion papers I'd brought with me. We were missing one form. And, for some reason, the van is registered in Steve's name only, so I couldn't register that today.

Fine, I thought, just tell me what I need (and let me go find a toilet). She had to go consult a colleague to get the final answer. She left.

Tick. Spasm. Tick. Clench. Tick.

I asked the adjacent clerk if there was a bathroom I could use. "No. Sorry." (But not really sorry, sort of a happy, isn't-that-funny sorry.) Right. When was the last time an office was built without at least a staff washroom?

Finally, my clerk came back. I leaned over the counter and whispered, "Excuse me. I'm having a gastric attack. I really need to go to the bathroom! Is there a restroom I could use?" I gave her a desperate "sh** will start flowing soon if you don't help me" glare.

She stuck to the story that the office had no toilets. Instead, she directed me to a skivey restaurant a couple of doors down. Sensing my desperation, she told me to go ahead and come back to the front of the line when I was ready.

I skedaddled to the restaurant, leaving Brian standing in limbo. I ignored the "customers only" sign on the women's room door, praised God that it was unoccupied, turned a blind eye to the decades of grime that caked the door, floors and walls, and found sweet relief.

When I got back to the ServiceOntario office, I waited just a couple of minutes while the clerk dealt with her current customer, then she told me which forms I still needed.

So I survived, but still have to come back some other day. Because evidently this isn't enough paperwork to get plates in Ontario:


  1. Poor you! Glad the IBS didn't do anything totally regrettable. And we will get that last form to you!

  2. I'm just curious - is this a government building without a public bathroom? How is this possible or legal?

  3. No, it is not a public building. ServiceOntario is a privatized franchise that carries out transactions for the Government of Ontario. There are many ServiceOntario locations in Ottawa, some of which are quite nice (and probably have public washrooms), but they don't provide vehicle registration services.


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