When You Can't (Pay) Phone It In

Published 3:20 pm Thursday, July 26, 2012

There's a scene in the 1978 Superman movie where Clark Kent looks to do his quick-change routine in the phone booth.

Clark, with the bad guys wreaking havoc, rushes up the street and pauses in front of an outdoor pay phone. It was enough to make the Man of Steel do an up and down take before moving on to a revolving door.

The iconic phone booth had given way to the open-air pay phone of the 70s.

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And now those, too, are just about gone. What ever will Superman do? There just aren't that many buildings with revolving doors. He may end up changing in public restrooms.

Poor Superman.

The death of the pay phone has been coming like a distant, marching drum beat for some time and, now in cover-your-ears pitch, we are witnessing its last days. Try, I suggest, looking around Farmville for an operational pay phone. You'll have a tough time. (We have one confirmed sighting.)

Change again, is sort of that way. One day you wake up and things you always thought would be there are gone.

It wasn't that long ago pay phones were in laundry mats, or near the western entrance to Tom's Country Store at Dowdy's Corner, or close to the Exxon sign at Sheppards.

Or just about any other gas station or convenience store where travelers were sure to gather.

People used to really need pay phones. Tires blew out. Cars overheated. Help was almost always a couple of quarters away. (In the old days, ten cents would do.)

I remember a collection of glass phone booths on South Main Street in front of the telephone office. They had hinged doors you could close for privacy or to simply cut down on the road noise of passing automobiles.

They've been gone, of course, for some time now and such talk seems as some old tale.

Phone booths are rather iconic. Close your eyes and you can probably see Bogart standing in one now as the rain pours and visualize Maxwell Smart enter one, then fall from view in the opening sequence of Get Smart.

But people drive and talk on their cell phones now.

Walk and talk.

Hang upside down and talk if they want to, too.

Or, even rather than talk, just text message.

Soon, I figure, the day will one day come when land lines even for homes will become like those telephone booths. Everyone will have a cell phone on their hip all hours of the waking day. It's almost that way now.

Just think how the telephone has changed. Long-time Farmville residents can remember when they didn't have to dial “392” for local exchanges; once upon a time one merely dialed the “2” and then the final four digits. Now there are even multiple exchanges-390, 391, 395…

Twenty plus years ago, when we moved to Curdsville, I was rather delighted to discover we had a 392 exchange, which meant I could still call mom and dad (less than ten miles away in Cumberland) without a long distance charge. The next hill north over into Buckingham-less than a mile-was long distance. Our local calling area now stretches to Burkeville and Keysville.

Just a few years back, phone cards were once a must for traveling, but if you have a cell phone, there's no longer a need for a calling card. Besides, there are few pay phones to use them on anyway.

And pagers. When's the last time you saw a pager?

But towers of power have cellitified hand-held phones that have fundamentally changed life. We can know almost anything instantly. Talk to anyone we wish on anywhere calling plans or just keep dialing until the allotted time on pre-pay phones run out.

Still, it's a sad day to see things change and icons get disconnected from a generation. We suggest the next time you see a pay phone that still works in your travels, pause for a moment, whip out your cell phone camera for a picture, and remember what was.

And what will soon never be again.