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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

My Kingdom for a Working Pay Phone


Photo by myself today at the Times Square subway station. A man sat with young cat that was enamored with him.

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Today I forgot my phone and had to call Mark from a *gulp* a pay phone. (Cue creepy organ music).

I wind up using a pay phone about five times a year. I'd say 75% of the time, the phone doesn't work. Either I don't get a dial tone, or I get a dial tone and my fifty cents disappear forever into an abyss, or I actually get my money back. Whatever the result, I have to go in search of another phone.

It's a real act of faith to pick the receiver up off the hook with your bare hand and put it anywhere near your bare ear. Ugh.

I once worked at an office that attempted to design street furniture in the form of snazzy modern payphones. We met with telephone business guys, three of them who wore blueish suits. In the midst of one involved meeting, one business guy was mid-sentence when he whipped out what must have been the equivalent of a Binaca and sprayed himself in the mouth. I would have lost it except I was so shocked I couldn't emit a sound.

Anyway, the amount of energy involved in trying to get the payphone to work was astounding. First was the cost; a fabricator estimated a cost of more than $30k for a prototype. Then it had to comply with national codes for the handicapped. Then it had to be buildable. Finally, it had to defy vandalism.

Hm. All this for a phone booth? Is it really necessary? Well yes, when you think about how much money these phone guys get from advertising. In fact, it doesn't really matter whether the phones work, as long as the phone is attached to a billboard or three. Hence the high percentage of broken phones out there.

In the approval process for the phone booth, we had to present renderings to the Mayor's office. I remember we had to switch out the graphic at the last minute because Rudy (Guiliani, the Mayor at the time), didn't like the Yankees. So we showed an ad for the US Open instead.

Or perhaps it was the other way around, that Rudy preferred baseball to tennis. Whatever the case, it was a mad scramble where we had to switch out one graphic for the other, so the design wouldn't be discriminated against on any level.

I thought it was ironic that we had to be super political around a politician, but perhaps it was less ironic than appropriate. I don't know how Rudy reacted to the images. We dropped them off with his people, and soon afterwards our office abandoned the whole phone booth enterprise. It was just too much work, even for the good of New York.

11 comments:

Mo said...

pay + phone = purell

Kitty said...

lol, Mo!

The D in D & T said...

great photo!

pay phones are creepy. particularly when you can smell the person that has used it before you on the receiver. unsettling.

Suzanne said...

I wouldn't even know where to begin to look for a payphone here in Tulsa. Do we still have them? I'll have to look.

Weird that things have changed this much this quickly. I remember banks and banks of payphones in airports not all that long ago.

CHEWY said...

You just brought to mind all the phones I used to see in Grand Central. I wonder if any of them are left?

Fredrik said...

I'm a cell phone junkie. I admit it. When I've forgotten my precious at home, I'm helpless. It's quite ridiculios I know, but that's the way it is. Back in the days you could always use a public pay phone, if you had some change. Nowadays you have to buy a phone card at a newsstand. Usually the cheapest costs around seven dollars. Not funny when you just have to make one call. Just another "industrial country problem" I guess.

Ha Ha Sound said...

The only pay phone I know of is the one on 52nd and Park. SE corner. And I agree with Mo, I wouldn't touch the receiver on it without really thick gloves. =+)

Tammy said...

Phone booths freak me out.....way too cramped for my liking. Hope your having a good day. :o)

Kitty said...

I swear, soon there will be generations of people who will have never seen a pay phone. That's pretty scary. We have such a xenophobic view of public phones these days.

I have to wonder whether the idea of 'public' anything will be a thing of the past? Everything will be individually wrapped. There will be sanitizers and aerosols for every occasion.

I think it all marks a fear of the other and a general lack of community. Not that I disagree with it. I'm afraid of cooties, too.

Ming the Merciless said...

Ohhhh....the humiliation of having to use a public phone.

If I were there and saw you using one of those things, I would quickly cross the street and pretend I don't know who you are. :-)

Kitty said...

Ming, lol, you're too funny!