Hung Up On Payphones

Have you forgotten about payphones?

Maybe you still see their gutted shells rusting away on the perimeter of some local filling station.  I personally haven’t seen a working one in years.

The days of rotary payphones, phonebooks and even telephone booths largely predate me.  I remember the occasional booth when I was a kid but for most of my life, they were these book-less push button devices with a small shroud around them offering minimal protection, for the phone, not for the caller.

Even when cellular phones started becoming common, payphones seemed to hold out for a while, immobile and permanently fixed in place forever.  Reminders of the Past, harbingers of a future potential cell phone network failure that never seems to happen.  No matter what stores changed their names and signage around them, the payphones remained.

But slowly, over the last 5 or so years, they seem to have just vanished from the American landscape.  Once a beacon of hope when your car broke down or you were lost or you were just a teenager gathering friends to meet at the mall, you could count on a payphone being there to the rescue.

I’ve always been intrigued by them.  Unlike our annually replaced cell phones, payphones could stand out in the weather for years and still work fine, needing only the occasional coin box emptying.  Sure the chrome would blister and the shine was often scratched out of their black plastic hand piece, and God help you if you were desperate enough for change that you fingered the coin return, but they were usually there, usually working.  Decorated by vandals, autographed by weary listeners, telling a thousand stories without uttering a word of their own.

Reliability became dodgy as their maintenance cycles drew farther part.  The amount of change they required to operate seemed to climb steeply in their final years of operation.  But there they stood, seemingly more expensive to remove than to leave in place, ever ready, ever vigilant, motionlessly and silently presiding over parking lots like the Queen’s Guard.

But then as filling stations began another wave of changing their signs, renovating, adding flat screen televisions to the fuel pumps, the payphones finally went away.  Once I even tried to buy the last one in my town.  I saw it being taken down whilst on my way home one cool evening.

For a period, whenever I saw a payphone, I’d snap a picture of it.  It’s been a couple years now since I’ve seen one though.

Here, you’ll find some of my favorite photos of payphones that I took between the years 2008 and 2013.

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4 thoughts on “Hung Up On Payphones

  1. An enjoyable read and I also have an affinity for photographing payphones when I come across them (I’m sure it’s been inspired by your photographs over the years). I can tell you that there are several still alive and well in Los Angeles!! I see them fairly often, but my sense is that they are generally declining and now some are mere husks! I’ve been doing my best to document them with film as I come across them knowing that one of these days, they will all be gone.

  2. I was just looking at a pair of “husks” at the gas station yesterday, thinking about this exact topic. I’m not exactly on the lookout for them, but whenever I notice them, they are typically missing the phones themselves. Kind of like finding seashells, where you knew a creature once existed but now just the shell remains.

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