Last night I found a payphone graveyard, tucked beneath the West Side Highway along the Hudson River. Just a few months ago, I was writing about an artist using payphones as part of art and history project and now the bone yard. There were at least one hundred of the brushed aluminium boxes piled up waiting on whatever fate is reserved for disconnected telephones.
It’s hard to wax nostalgic for payphones the way we do for other technologies. (For most of us, the phone booth is almost as much a relic as the payphone itself. If one were to find a phone booth, someone has cross sourced it with a public restroom.) So, we used these awful open faced boxes where one stood on the street shouting into the receiver hoping to be heard on the other end. That is assuming you were lucky enough to find a working unit. Who hasn’t picked up the receiver to discover it no longer connected to the box? Finally, the cost of using the payphone had spiked from it’s friendly dime and quarter days to the point of needing a dollar bill slot. After The Sopranos and The Wire, even criminals stopped using payphones.
New York City keeps grumbling about using payphones as wireless stations for free WiFi across the City. If they really want to do this, they better move fast because these payphone graveyards are filling up. The only people I see using payphones these days are the Crazies, and they aren’t making calls just chatting with the Voices in their head. I think those still cost only a dime.
So, if you find yourself whistling past a payphone graveyard, and in need of an appropriate tune then I leave you with this one. This is the greatest payphone song ever written and soon it’s cultural references will be completely obsolete. Seriously, when was the last time you spoke with a human operator?
Thank you for your time, you’ve been so much more than kind…you can keep the dime!