Posted by: Calmseas (Mike) | December 3, 2007

Dropping Coins

Pay Phone

I heard today that ATT will be phasing out all of their pay phones nationwide over the next twelve months. There are currently only about 1 million pay phones left in the United States, down from 2.3 million ten years ago. The reason, of course, is the explosion of cell phones in this country in the last dozen years or so.

This got me thinking nostalgically about yet another little bit of Americana that will surely go the way of the nickel cigar in rather short order. (When you get past 50, you start to think nostalgically about nearly everything, but that’s another blog entry.)

I began to think back 30-plus years ago when as a yet-wet-behind-the-ears college kid, I would make a 90-mile trip every Sunday night from my family home to my little studio apartment near the college I was attending. On most of those trips, I became very tired as I traveled, especially as I got closer to the end of my drive. To stay awake, I resorted to slapping myself silly, rolling down the windows to get cold fresh air into the vehicle, cranking up the radio, and other such gimmicks. There were a few times that I came very close to falling asleep at the wheel, and I shutter to think what the consequences might have been had I drifted off to sleep, and off the road. Many times I should have pulled over and taken a short walk, but I don’t think that I ever did. I was young—and stupid in proportion to my youth.

Now the goal of this weekly trek was not really the studio apartment and the sweet siren call of the pull-out sofa; rather, it was the pay phone just off the highway exit as I arrived in town. I would always stop at that same pay phone, drop my dime in (I think it was a dime anyway), and drag the dial on the phone around a few times with my index finger (definitely a lost art these days) thereby placing my call home to let Mom and Dad know that I arrived safely. (It seems like even after depositing my coin, I still had to go through an “operator” to put my call though—if you are under 30, you are probably not familiar with that telephone employee from another era known as “the operator.”) Once that call was placed, I was again on my way, and on my own, out of contact with my other world 90 miles away until I next decided to make my way to a pay phone and place another call.

Life was simpler in those days. It was so much easier to make yourself unavailable.


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