• The world’s first telephone box, called “Fernsprechkiosk,” opened Jan. 12, 1881, at Potsdamer Platz, Berlin. To use it, one had to buy paper tickets called Telefonbillet, which allowed for a few minutes of talking time. It was replaced in 1899 by a coin-operated telephone. • William Gray is credited with inventing the coin payphone in the United States in 1889. • There were approximately 2 million phone booths in the United States in 1999. Only 5% of those remained in service by 2018. Phone booths feature prominently in popular culture. Mild-mannered Clark Kent would enter one and emerge as the Man of Steel. A fad among the younger set in the late 1950s was cramming as many people into a phone booth as possible. Today it seems like a really silly and nothing like the much more dignified recent fads modern youngsters have engaged in like planking, owling and swallowing Tide Pods.
These days, smartphones are incredible. We may use them to snap photographs, film movies, play games, listen to music, send text messages, and much more. Its most fundamental function, on the other hand, is included in its name. People who are a little older than the kids who never read this column remember when contacting someone required dialling a coin-operated phone in a rectangular box known as a phone booth. The following three facts about phone booths sprung into my brain (after being taken from Wikipedia).
I remember when I went to Armijo High School there used to be dual phone booths on Carpenter Street next to some apartments. They always looked kinda funky sitting there in a residential neighborhood right next to the sidewalk, but they were a life-saver when you were at school and needed to call for a ride. The following is my favorite personal remembrance of an incident that included a phone booth.
Phone booths have been used in movies and on television as a time machine (“Doctor Who,” the Bill & Ted movies), an elevator (“Get Smart”), a target for rage after finding out your best friend got whacked instead of becoming a “made man” in the mafia (“Goodfellas”) or a place for Rain Man to release an oopsie fart when he was in one with his brother. The 2002 psychological thriller “Phone Booth” starring Colin Farrell and Keifer Sutherland was about a sniper who wouldn’t allow a man to leave a phone booth until he confessed his life’s misdeeds. It had its release date delayed because of the real-life D.C. sniper attacks that happened right around that time.
I was going to my buddy Ken Monson’s house in the early 2000s in Vacaville with my then-prepubescent daughter Kaci. I had been there once, but for the life of me could not remember the directions. While some people had cellphones back then, I did not. I drove around in circles until my pride was whittled down enough to look for a pay phone to call Ken and admit my predicament and ask for directions. I spotted one in Alamo Plaza and parked near it. I realized I didn’t have any change so I started walking to the liquor store next door. I suddenly glanced down at my daughter whose hand I was holding and realized she was crying. I asked her what was the matter. “We’re lost!” she forlornly blurted between sobs.