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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Phone Home

photo by David W. Quinn

AT&T announced that it is getting rid of its telephone booth and public pay phone business. The telephone booth is an integral feature of my personal urban geography. Throughout my high school dormitory years, I depended on pay phones for my favorite parts of my week - my link to worlds outside the cloistered yeshiva-seminary. There was one in the hall with a long shelf below it that I could squeeze myself onto for my Sunday night calls with my Mom. There was a booth on the first floor where I had more private conversations with Estee, the girl I befriended who wound up in an adolescent mental ward after hurting herself. We'd exchange late night stories about our respective institutions. Somebody showed me how to drop a nickel down the nickel slot and in the same fluid motion, hit the coin return gizmo as the nickel was falling, and the dial tone came on. Later we learned the formula for creating credit card numbers and made countless long distance calls on some unsuspecting business' dime. I'm sorry AT&T, if I hastened your departure from the business. Actually the pay phone business kept growing in spite of all the felonious adolescents of the '60's. Cell phones have been the undoing of the business and in ten short years we've gone from 2.6 million U.S. pay phones to under a million. Lord knows we could use the booths today as much as ever - even phoneless ones - so all those cell phone users could take their business meetings off the sidewalks (especially the "bluetoothers" who look insane as they walk along gesticulating and shouting and scaring the subdued homeless folks who have to share those downtown walkways.

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