Thursday, May 18, 2006

You must remember this...

I submit for your consideration The Payphone Project--self-described as "stories, pictures, phone numbers and news from payphones and public telephony."

Just the price of the gas in this picture should give you a hint as to how long ago it was taken. Ah, the good old days.
My personal experiences with payphones over the years tend toward the middle-of-the-night, damn-I'm-in-a-fix variety. You know the kind I mean, right? Your car broke down and you've just hiked along the shoulder of some lonely two-lane highway, in the dark. You find a roadhouse with a payphone in the back, through the smoke and past the pooltables.

So you cradle the receiver and fish in your pockets for enough change for what's going to be a long-distance call from the middle of nowhere, and when you finally manage to get through, you stick your finger in your free ear to block the loud music from the crummy local band, and shout your location to whoever was unfortunate enough to pick up, on the other end of the line--never mind that you can only make out about every third word they try to reply.

Then, if you've still got a couple of bucks in your pocket, you go order a draft beer and settle in to wait for your friend, roommate, sister--or whoever you called--to come and retrieve your sorry ass.

That can't possibly just be me. That's happened to all of you, too, right? Before we all carried cellphones, I mean?

Much has been made of the vanishing payphone, in this brave day of blackberries, cells, and wifi hot spots. The disappearance of coin-operated telephones creates problems for people in remote areas, since guaranteed cell service still isn't a Constitutionally protected right.

Here's an article that points out some of the issues with losing these free-standing, well-lit oases of communication with the rest of the world.

From The New York Times in October 2005:
The pay phone in the dirt parking lot of the Acworth General Store here is not terribly impressive, its base coated in grime and a plastic-covered phone book hanging limply from its metal frame.
But to residents of this village of 150 people in southwestern New Hampshire, it is a phone worth fighting for. The town gets no cellphone reception, and there is no other pay phone for miles. The police and volunteer fire departments even have to use the phone sometimes when their radios do not work.
I don't really need payphones, anymore. I just sort of miss them, you know? For all that my friends make fun of my propensity to fondle my cell phone--which lets me check my email, download music, text and send pictures, and even take snapshots or short digital video clips--there was more than once I was awfully happy to see even a beat-up payphone with the yellow-pages long since gone missing.

Even now, especially on the road, driving long distances, I find myself noticing and remembering where I last saw a phone. You know, just in case.
Not to mention that poor Supes is going to have to figure out yet another whole new system for those quick costume changes.


Lori said...

No. You're not the only one who stood alongside the empty road trying to determine which bastion of civilization was nearest -- the one you passed through some miles back or the one your car was pointed towards when it broke down -- so you could call someone who did not like to be woke in the middle of the night to come and retrieve you.

Better, were the times you were too far out, it was too dark, too cold, and too icy, to safely hoof it anywhere and the only viable alternative was to climb into some stranger's car and hope they weren't the latest, as-yet-unknown serial rapist and killer.

I was reminded of this not to long ago. I was on a trip, surrounded by national forest on a lonely stretch of road. I was on the cell phone talking to my mother when I lost the signal. When we made contact again a short time later, she immediately started talking about changing cell phone companies.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because, I don't like these dead areas. It's supposed to be a nationwide plan." There was fear in her voice. She has the same cell phone company as I do.

"Mom, that's just because there weren't any towers in that area. That's going to happen whoever the cell phone company is."

"Well, I don't like that. What would you do if you broke down out there like that?"

"The same thing I used to do before I had a cell phone."

I don't think she liked that answer.

Matt D. said...

That was a really cool post. I enjoyed reading it.

Here we have not payphones but "emergency beacons" at the side of the highway and in random places in the desert (for illegals). It's pretty much a forgone conclusion, it seems, that if you don't have a cell phone, the only thing you could possibly need is an emergency beacon.

Unique said...

I don't have a cell phone. I don't want a cell phone. I miss the good old days....and not just for the lack of payphones.

My experience (in the last 10 years, anyway) is that some moron tore up the phone so it didn't work anyway.

Add that to all those cell phone users and it's the death knell for the payphone. Que sera, sera.

Dawno said...

I still see a lot of payphones - in hotels and at airports. Goes to show how urban I am.

Erin (blogging daughter of Bears and Bees Shouldn't Teleport) likes to turn the recievers upside down. She'd be disappointed if they all disappeared.

I have to say, it's probably been over a decade since I used my last ... no, wait. I was at Taco Bell a couple years ago and had left my cell at home so I couldn't call the SO to ask him what he wanted. I remember being outraged that the call cost so much - fifty cents, I think. I remember ten cent pay calls.

Anyhoo, except for that it's been over a decade - last one I used was in Bakersfield and we moved up to Nerdvana 10 years ago.

Jill said...

I love the row of phones picture, Mac. Using pay phones in Israel is one of my most distinct memories of how different life in the Middle East was compared to life anywhere else. I suppose it's just about getting older and having lived longer, but I love the nostalgia of (relatively) cheaper gas and dime phone calls.

Thanks. Hope you're well.

Brian said...

Oh my. Remembering things past.

In high school I used to line up to use the payphone outside the auditorium after my last class of the day to find out whether or not I was actually going to get to have dinner with my father that evening. It seems so much smaller now than it was at the time, but I remember being so happy when there was no-one else behind me so that either way, we'd be able to talk freely without it being overheard and thus broadcast and without holding someone else behind. This was before the payphone service was opened up to competition. You could use the same swipe card anywhere in the province. That little deregulation was only a slight irritation compared to the ones to follow, but it was the first that I could recall that really didn't make sense to me.

Mac said...

Brian--the older I get the more things don't make sense to me...

Glad you're here. Thanks for commenting.

Anonymous said...

I have been stranded more than once in the last few years, and completely at a loss as to where the pay phones went. I am handicapped and have told my son (full grown) not to bother with getting me a cell phone since I never go anywhere except doctor appointments. It is insane to think that a phone must now be bought ($70.00 +) and a "plan" of 2 years be paid for, just because the bus sometimes forgets to pick me up. The worst part is that I am going further into debt every month with the mounting bills pertaining to my health, and I'm supposed to pay for a full phone and plan ALONGSIDE the one I have at home with a special device on it to help me use the phone? What has happened to my world? *cries softly*