Friday, January 20, 2012

Payphone

Another payphone has bitten the dust.

It happened a few months ago, on the corner of 7th and 1st in the East Village. I took a photo of the extraction, but never bothered to post it.



It wasn't the infamous Pee Phone, but I'm sure it had its moments. There's nothing there now but a pale square of cement, cleaner than its neighboring squares.

Payphones are vanishing from the city all the time, never to return. Let's take a moment to remember this one and imagine all the junkies who once relied on it, all the lovers' quarrels it endured (receiver smashed into cradle), all the people who needed it for yelling at AT&T when their phones went out, all the drunk drivers who backed into it while trying to park, all the times a person in need slipped her finger into its slot, hoping to find a quarter but mostly coming up empty.

Such was the life of a city payphone.


Google streetview

See also:
Pupkin's Payphones
Payphone Man

25 comments:

EV Grieve said...

The Pee Phone is doomed. Someone ripped off the actual receiver. So there has just been a frayed cord there for months.

Of course, the outside does contain valuable advertising for, say, "Jersey Couture" on Oxygen

Ed said...

There is where the nostalgia of this site doesn't go far enough.

If you were outside of your house or office and needed to make a phone call, you could use a publically provided phone to do so. You could even to arrange to take a call on one with some coordination. And the cost, aside from the low amount of taxes needed to fund the system, was a quarter.

Now these phones have mostly been removed, so if you want to make a call, you have to buy a cell phone, and pay every month for a service plan, using a handful of private providers. The service plan costs more than the fragment of taxes used to maintain the public phones.

Plus the approved way to use cell phones seems to be to weave slowly down the sidewalk while using them, though as an alternative using them in a crowded restaurant or cafe may be acceptable. Not only is the city government removing the public phones, they can't be bothered to designate areas for cell phone use where the users won't impinge on other people trying to move about.

There are so many negative trends, which apply to other areas, wrapped up in this that it is hard to know where to begin.

James Campbell Taylor said...

Well said, Ed.

I once went on a Sunday afternoon pilgrimage to West End Avenue to check out Manhattan's four remaining phone booths (they're dotted between 66th Street and somewhere in the upper-90s). That was a couple of years ago at least — I haven't been back to check on them. How sad that these types of activities are spurred by an ominous feeling of now-or-never.

esquared said...

There was also a time when mom and pop business's, esp. diners, phones were only pay phones and one can arrange to receive phone calls from there too.

Places that still have pay phones, I notice, are old arts and culture establishments: The Met Opera (and the theaters surrounding it in Lincoln Center); The Park Armory; The museums, etc., and they're usually by the restrooms. And the outer boroughs still have street pay phones.

I guess Clark Kent will now have to change only in these places. Metropolis is f*cked.

VisuaLingual said...

Jeremiah, my scrappy neighborhood in Cincinnati still has payphones, including a couple that inexplicably charge 20 cents, like this one. I don't actually know if they work.

Anonymous said...

Without pay phones, where would Clark Kent drop his office drag and turn into Superman?

Jeremiah Moss said...

well, you know, there's payphones and then there's phone booths. i reserve my deeper nostalgia for the booths. but the payphones deserve some bereavement, too.

esquared said...

@James Campbell Taylor - the four remaining phone booths in Manhattan

http://www.scoutingny.com/?p=852

and as what Peter Ackerman said, per JM's interview with him:

"...it used to be that you could see people in pay-phones, but not hear what they were saying. Now you can hear people on cellphones but not always see them. There’s something more invasive about hearing someone else talking than there is watching a dumb show. I mean, phone booths are essentially transparent rooms where you could see someone laughing, crying, yelling, but not know the actual details. It allowed your imagination to engage with the community.

Jeremiah Moss said...

@esquared: that is a lovely quote, thanks for bringing it back to mind.

Goggla said...

I miss the payphone that used to be outside the spice shop on First Ave btw 5th & 6th St. During the blackout of '03, it had a line of about ten people for a couple of days. On any other given day, there was always someone on it, and sometimes there was a little stool next to it. Someone then installed a convenient desk and pencil sharpener on the fence a few feet away. It made that section of sidewalk sociably interesting. I recently found myself in need of a public phone and had to walk several blocks to find one that even worked.

alec said...

Long time lurker, first time poster, etc., etc.

Anyway, I love this site, but I find it fascinating that so much is made of the vanishing of downtown, while the object of longing and desire can still be found elsewhere in Manhattan. I was compelled to comment on the payphone post because where I live, in the 140's between Broadway and Amsterdam, I see people making calls on the phones all the time. While it can't be argued to the contrary that so much of what we love about NY is disappearing at a rapid pace, and that in reality not a single neighborhood is immune, Harlem and Hamilton Heights--at the furthest reaches of the original Commissioner's Plan--retain so much of what many of us on the site pine for. Come up and take a walk around the area and you'll see what I'm talking about...

lauran said...

someone said weave in & out on sidewalk? how can anyone walk & talk on a phone @the same time? i cant. i ducked inside a doorway, when i had to phone someone. its hard to believe that people have SO MUCH important business in their lives. i think most of it it BS. cast your vote.

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks for getting in on the comments, Alec. your points are well taken. the limitations here are largely due to my own geography. i post about the parts of town i frequent the most, and then do my best to wander farther afield when possible.

Anonymous said...

I think it is important to mention that cell phones did not work on 9/11, but pay phones did.

James Campbell Taylor said...

@esquared: love that blog!

There's a direct correlation between the phone booth's obsolescence and society's general loss of privacy and discretion. In this age of indiscriminate self-promotion people need their business to be heard and broadcast. Which I think also explains the unnecessary volume with which many conduct their phone conversations (or should that be "monologues"...?).

Katrink said...

Call me old-fashioned, but I still carry around several quarters, stashed in various places in my wallet, purse, and backpack, just in case. I'm still proudly cell-free, more or less (my husband has the simplest possible cell phone in the car in case he gets in an accident).

Katrink said...

Me again. Now you've got me thinking. Best NYC payphone booth movie scene: Mia Farrow in "Rosemary's Baby". Second best (not in NYC): Tipi Hendren in "The Birds".

Anonymous said...

from the way that people have mistreated the payphone over the years (especially bums trying to find money in it, being damaged all the time when you needed it, etc)- even at its height, before the prevalence of the cell phone, it is not worth an ounce of nostalgia.

Anonymous said...

As Goggla said the payphones had lines during the blackout of 03. A couple of times as I was standing in line for the phone a policeman would run up and cut into line for an emergency. It made me worry about our infrastructure then. How bad is it now?

Caleo said...

I disagree with Anon. 4:44 completely.
As someone who has never owned a cell phone and has no intention of owning one, let me say that finding a working payphone is damn near impossible.
I have had to walk many blocks out of my way just to get to a working phone, frequently losing quarters on phones that seem to work but swallow coins and then offer no service.
And to think that they are slowly but surely being eliminated, just reinforces the point that we are actually losing options, not gaining them.

Marty Wombacher said...

@Katrink: That's a great scene from Rosemary's Baby! The worst phone booth scene: All of them from the movie "Phone Booth."

Anonymous said...

I know they are disappearing but I am somewhat surprised at people who say they have trouble finding pay phones. I still see them all over, and yes that is mostly downtown. There are a ton of them along 14th street, I'd say more than are necessary.

79rigid said...

What are you supposed to do if you're locked out of your apt without your cell phone?Beg a business to let you use their phone as I recently found out.

Blayze said...

Used to camp over near that pee phone when my friend rented an apartment there. Good times.

Caleo said...

Anon. 8:39- There are pay phones all over the place, and more than half don't work.
Keeping pay phones functional is not a city priority.