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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Ye Olde Pay Phone

Image: watchdog.org
There is really nothing pleasant in my memory of using a pay phone, save the association of Clark Kent, transforming into Superman. When I hear the antiquated word "pay phone", I remember the dirty interior of a telephone booth with the non-reflective silver shelf that was installed below the telephone scribbled with obscenities and phone numbers in ink and pencil. I can almost smell the odor of urine and stale smoke.  Chewed bubble gum could be found in and around the stall.   More often than not, the telephone directory had been ripped out from it's metal jacket which swung by a heavy-duty cord.  I recall depositing a dime into the money slot to place a call, and eventually it became a quarter and continued to increase, ad infinite.  (Eventually, telephone companies offered a strip in which you could swipe a credit card).  I also remember the telephone ringing at home, and there would be a slight pause as you picked up.  Next you would hear an operator  tell you that it was a "collect call" and if you agreed to "accept the call", it meant that you would be responsible for "reversed charges", should you chose to accept it.  It's redeeming quality was the ability to dial "0" for an emergency. 

Image: rnsmith.com
In 2015, it was estimated that over two-thirds of the American population owns a cell phone, so it is no wonder that the use of the payphone has dropped from popularity.  Let's face another reality:  Who wants to use something so unsanitary as a "public phone" into which some stranger has spit or breathed heavily?  I've never saw a dispenser of Chlorox or Lysol wipes at the ready; however, these germ and graffiti-ridden stalls, did serve a purpose, for many years. Today, airports are probably the most common place to still find public telephones.

Image: waylou.com
New York City is providing a swanky, cosmopolitan way to replace old coin operated relics into large touch screens that provide city information, emergency broadcasts and local business advertisements.  The endeavor is to remove the obsolete booths and replace them with new hot-spot kiosks at approximately 7,500 and up to 10,000 stations around the city. 



The effort for replacement is called LinkNYC and offers free, high speed Wi-Fi where you can tap in, to access the Internet, services and even get directions.  The Wi-Fi speed is being touted as 100 times faster than average public connections!  

LinkNYC offers a place to charge your devices, while you watch public service announcements on a sleek 55" HD screen.  The plan is also installing "dedicated" red buttons in which you can contact 911 for emergencies.

Library Exchange 

Image: psfk.com
In 2013, John Locke, a city native and architect, has initiated an ongoing project to transfer a couple of the old phone booths into public libraries.  His first experiment with the project was to install pumpkin colored shelves, completely stocked with books, resulted in 100% theft - including the shelves.  He moved his book sharing plan several blocks down, and began to attach a label to the spine of books and stamped the booths with the acronym "D.U.B." which stands for Department of Urban Betterment (though this is unofficial and has not been approved by the city).   His endeavor is honorable, as his goal is to create a system of giving and receiving.  His hope that people will take a book, read it, and return it - or replace it with another book.  John has a good question regarding the antiquity of these conspicuous eyesores, and leaves us with this question: "Is the pay phone an anachronism or an opportunity?"


Image: blog.kilafun.com
This little library in the park is one of about 47 in various neighborhoods of Bogota, Colombia. They were established to promote literacy across the country. Source: bilinguallibrarian.com


Let's have look at how using a phone booth has been utilized, for fame and the strange. 

Cramming... 

In 1959, a world record was set when 25 male students at the YMCA in Durban, South Africa for "cramming" or "stuffing" themselves into a standard telephone booth.  It became a fad that spread into the U.K., Canada and the U.S. 




Images: google; pinterest

Hollywood in a Phone Booth

Of course, giving or receiving news, has to be written into a story line somehow, and using the public telephone was a natural way of delivering it.  


In the movie Goodfellows,  Jimmy (Robert De Niro) hears the news that his partner in crime, Tommy (Joe Pesci), was murdered. Hearing the news over the pay phone, he knocks the phone booth over, in a rage.  


In Dirty Harry, our hero Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) is a San Francisco Police Department inspector who receives clues from a serial killer that lead him from pay phone to pay phone to try to prevent the murder of a young girl who is being held for ransom. 


In Die Hard III, John McClane (Bruce Willis) and Zeus Carber (Samuel L. Jackson) race around New York City from one pay phone to the next, trying to intervene on a terrorist's bomb plot. 


The route to the Ministry of Magic was using a phone booth in a Harry Potter movie, where he and Mr. Weasley used a phone booth to access the Ministry on their quest to destroy Lord Voldemort. The booth transports visitors from ground level to the Atrium on floor B8.  To achieve entrance, one dials 62442 (which spell "magic") on the telephone.



In the excellent flick, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) teleport via a phone booth to collect historical figures to pass their history exam.


Perhaps the most famous scene involving the telephone booth was used in perfection for the film, The Birds.  Director Alfred Hitchcock, cast Tippie Hedren as a wealthy San Francisco socialite, who sets her sights on a new boyfriend.  The small town slowly takes a turn for the worst when ordinary birds suddenly begin to attack people.


In the first episode of the Twilight Zone,  Earl Holliman, plays astronaut Mike Ferris, and is alone in an empty town square.  In the isolated and surreal setting, he seems to just miss anyone who may have just been there... but, we "will tell you about next week's story — after this word from our alternate sponsor."


Of course, the quintessential phone booth film, Phone Booth, publicist Stu Shepard (Colin Farrell) is trapped in a phone booth as he fears for his life. Caller (Kiefer Sutherland) is on the other end of the line, and claims to be a sniper aimed for Stu and will shoot him if he ends the call.  This film was introduced to Hitchcock in the 1960's but he never acted on it, and it wasn't made into a movie until 2002.

Wild and Crazy: 
People, places and things... 
you may recognize some of these people! [Found on pinterest]




David Bowie


James "Jimmie" Stewart

The Brady Bunch 


L-R: John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison


Farrah Fawcet
Jill St. John
Lou Abbott

Marlo Thomas 
Mia Farrow: Filming "Rosemary's Baby"



Australian Aboriginal

circa 1900

Dial and Drive


Operator, well could you help me place this call?
See, the number on the matchbook is old and faded
She's living in L.A. with my best old ex-friend Ray
A guy she said she knew well and sometimes hated

Isn't that the way they say it goes? Well, let's forget all that
And give me the number if you can find it
So I can call just to tell 'em I'm fine and to show
I've overcome the blow, I've learned to take it well
I only wish my words could just convince myself
That it just wasn't real, but that's not the way it feels

Operator, well could you help me place this call?
Well, I can't read the number that you just gave me
There's something in my eyes, you know it happens every time
I think about a love that I thought would save me

Isn't that the way they say it goes? Well, let's forget all that
And give me the number if you can find it
So I can call just to tell 'em I'm fine and to show
I've overcome the blow, I've learned to take it well
I only wish my words could just convince myself
That it just wasn't real, but that's not the way it feels
No, no, no, no - that's not the way it feels

Operator, well let's forget about this call
There's no one there I really wanted to talk to
Thank you for your time, ah, you've been so much more than kind
And you can keep the dime

Isn't that the way they say it goes? Well, let's forget all that
And give me the number if you can find it
So I can call just to tell 'em I'm fine and to show
I've overcome the blow, I've learned to take it well
I only wish my words could just convince myself
That it just wasn't real, but that's not the way it feels

Songwriter
JAMES CROCE


And... Don't forget to call your mother!