Dearly Disconnected

We cursed and abused them, and now many of us do without them. But pay phones recall a commonality in our culture. A tribute to this vanishing American icon.

—By Ian Frazier

Before I got married I was living by myself in an A-frame cabin in northwestern Montana. The cabin’s interior was a single high-ceilinged room, and at the center of the room, mounted on the rough-hewn log that held up the ceiling beam, was a telephone. I knew no one in the area or indeed the whole state, so my entire social life came to me through that phone. The woman I would marry was living in Sarasota, Florida, and the distance between us suggests how well we were getting along at the time. We had not been in touch for several months; she had no phone. One day she decided to call me from a pay phone. We talked for a while, and after her coins ran out I jotted the number on the wood beside my phone and called her back. A day or two later, thinking about the call, I wanted to talk to her again. The only number I had for her was the pay phone number I’d written down.

The pay phone was on the street some blocks from the apartment where she stayed.

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