Ode to the pay phone and other things that are gone

December 4, 2007, 5:21 PM UTC


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News comes today that AT&T will exit the pay phone business. This adds to the list of things that are going or gone. Most have for the most part been improved upon. But still? They will be missed. I’m not quite sure why. But they will be.

Older readers will remember the full-length rooms where Clark Kent changed into his more super persona. Or the rows of wooden cubicles strung together that graced bus stations and train terminals. Or looking for a dime, then a quarter, in order to make a call. Now it seems to me that that only phone booths — ugly monsters suspended on metal stumps — are available outside superettes for those interested in doing drug deals.

The phone booth is gone, or soon will be, following the water fountain as an institution. Remember them? In Chicago, where I grew up, we called them bubblers, I think. Unless that was in New England, I can’t remember.

We’re a mobile society and each of us wants what we want when we want it. We need to hydrate ourselve while we walk, constantly. Stopping for  a quick sip is no longer enough. And we need to talk constantly to a rolling river of fellow babblers. Hence the cell phone.

“I’m at the corner of Botnick and Hedge,” we tell people who for some reason we think want to know where we are. Only on the cell phone did the subject of Where Are We become a central topic. “I’m crossing the street to Barkley Plaza now,” you hear people say. And then, “Okay, I’ll talk with you later.” Then we hang up and dial again. “Hi,” we then say. “I’m at 56th and 8th now.” And while we walk we drink from our individual bottles of water, lest we become thirsty for a couple of minutes, which after all would be likely. All the bubblers are gone. 

Talk and drink. Drink and talk. And couple of more things we all share go bye-bye.

Tell me, friends. What do you see disappearing in the world around you? What improvements are now forcing the things that used to suffice out of existence? The drug store luncheonette, for instance. How many of those are gone? How about the transistor radio? Can the newspaper be far behind? The pencil? What else? Do we care?

Or is this just possibly the best thing for business ever? How many containers of bottled tap water will be sold this year? How many cell phones?