By Jim Heffernan
I don’t carry a cell phone, don’t want one and that’s that. (Amazing how final that can be, but never mind that.)
Still, I admit there are times when a cell phone would be handy, but those moments are rare. Truth is, I could have used one recently when I found myself needing to call home from a remote outpost.
Oh well, there are always public pay phones, you say to yourself. The remote outpost where I found myself was in the heart of the University of Minnesota Duluth campus. And what to my wandering eyes should appear just as I was thinking about calling home but a pay phone. Just outside a main door.
Wonderful. I admit I haven’t used a pay phone in a long time; nobody does. That was clear when I had to wipe away spider webs covering the box surrounding the phone. Spider webs. What does that say to whoever owns the pay phone? And what’s an arachnophobe supposed to do?
Anyway, I cleared the spider webs, popped a quarter into the slot, and dialed up. Two rings and funny noises followed by a recording pointing out that this is a pay phone and money must be deposited. But money WAS deposited, you want to say to the recording, but no point. One quarter down the drain, you figure.
So I slid another quarter into the slot, tried again, same reaction. Then I read the fine print on the surface of the phone: local calls 50 cents. You know you are getting along in years when you remember when they cost a nickel, but never mind that either.
I look back at the era of pay phones with some small nostalgia. I recall witnessing a pay phone call right there at UMD when I was a student there several centuries ago. A kid I knew wanted to break a date with a girl for some dance because he wanted to go with someone else. He recruited a few of his friends to stand near him at a student center pay phone and make noises intended to resemble airplanes taking off and landing as he telephoned to break the date.
The boy making the call was in Air Force ROTC and his fabricated reason for breaking the date was that he had suddenly been called to duty and was telephoning from the airport where he was waiting to take off. So there they were, the caller on the pay phone and several of his buddies surrounding him making airplane sounds. Ah, college.
It is not known if the girl believed him. She probably didn’t realize at the time she was better off not getting involved with someone who would do a thing like that. (The Air Force didn’t realize it wasn’t going to get this guy either. He ended up with a career in the Navy.)
But I stray from the subject of pay phones. I’m afraid they’re going the way of the typewriter, and that’s that. How do I know? A spider told me.