Rotary Pay Phones, Encyclopedias and Other Relics

By McIntyre, Doug | Pasadena Star-News, March 5, 2014 | Go to article overview

Rotary Pay Phones, Encyclopedias and Other Relics


McIntyre, Doug, Pasadena Star-News


The phone was ringing and I scrambled from room to room unable to find it. This is exactly what wasn't supposed to happen after I sprung for a new cordless phone system with five handsets.

FIVE and I still couldn't find the damn phone!

So I took a step back in time and bought a restored 1940s coin- operated rotary pay phone and stuck it up on the kitchen wall.

Problem solved.

This telecommunications relic turned out to be a practical antidote to the physics of cordless telephones, the mysterious force that makes all cordless handsets gravitate to the farthest corner of the house or hide between the sofa cushions.

The pay phone in the kitchen isn't going anywhere.

As long as I can find the kitchen - and if you've seen me recently you know that hasn't been a problem - there's at least one phone in the house I can always find.

When friends come over they always ask "does it work?" and can't resist a nostalgic spin of the dial. If you're a boomer or above you grew up feeding nickels, dimes and quarters into rotary pay phones.

Not so Sean Sullivan.

Sean is 12 and occasionally stops by with his parents for a visit. Like all proper American 12-year-olds he has never owned anything that doesn't come with a charger. All the telephones in Sean's life have been smartphones. Yet, upon seeing our fire-engine red 1940s rotary pay phone, a staple of my analog childhood, Junior Sullivan's face lit up like Og the Caveman seeing fire for the very first time.

"How does it work?" he asked.

And after extracting a nickel from him, I was happy to demonstrate. I made 70 cents during that visit. I wish the Sullivans would stop by more often.

Of course coin-operated pay phones have nearly vanished from the American landscape along with other once-commonplace domestic items rendered obsolete by our obsession with the digital revolution.

I have two shelves worth of encyclopedias. …

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