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The Nearest Pay Phone?

Monday, April 13th, 2009 | General, Society

I know I should be posting my He Said / She Said about why it is better to have a summer birthday, but I had an encounter this morning that I wanted to share.

I dropped my wife off at work this morning and then headed to the neighborhood Wawa for a coffee during the busy morning rush hour.  I was about three people deep in the cashier line when a very confused-looking man walked in.  He removed his  old fashioned sunglasses from a head covered with a full-blown mullet, and revealed an expression suggesting that whatever was on his mind was the most important thing in the world.  It wasn’t so much a panicked look as it was a “caught up in his own situation” look.

The cashier was in the process of accepting payment from a customer when Very Confused Looking Man glanced at a paper in his hand, looked in her direction, and blurted out, “Can you tell me where the nearest payphone is?”  My initial reaction was, “Huh? Did he just interrupt her to ask for a payphone?” I first obtained a cell phone for work purposes in 1998 and, without finding any definitive data online, recall them exploding in popularity about 2-3 years after that.  I also recall reading and hearing news stories at that time that more and more companies were removing pay phones from public facilities since they were no longer producing enough income to justify the hassle of maintaining them.

The cashier, who appeared just old enough to legally work, had a blank look on her face as she handed change to the customer in line. Her quiet reply to Very Confused Looking Man was, “Honestly, I have no idea where that would be.” Since the cashier is young enough to have never even manually rolled up a car window, she could have just as easily said, “Honestly, I have no idea what a payphone is.”  Very Confused Looking Man looked very disappointed and resumed a hurried pace through the store.

I was not the only person in disbelief of Very Confused Looking Man’s question.  The customer who had just received his change was an elderly man, old enough to still have a ‘new’ rotary phone, but even he looked at the cashier and asked, “Did he just ask for a payphone?”  The elderly man asked this in a hushed tone, careful to preserve Very Confused Looking Man’s dignity after asking such a ridiculous question.  The cashier nodded and then let out a nervous laugh, which made me smile.  We were all temporarily lost in our own thoughts when Very Confused Looking Man asked the question, but now realized that we had shared this moment of anachronistic realization together. Today, in this age of cell phones, someone asked for the location of the nearest payphone and none of us could provide an answer. 10 years ago, my answer would have been, “Gee, did you look right outside Wawa?” but obviously not anymore.

It wasn’t until I got home that I properly processed the details of the situation and realized the truth. Think about it: a preoccupied outsider, the old fashioned sunglasses, the full-blown mullet, the bizarre request for a payphone. This man was clearly a time traveler from the past! And we had all laughed at him, instead of recognizing the awesomeness of the experience!

I leave you with two very important questions:

  1. Why is Very Confused Looking Man here in the future?
  2. Do you know where you can find a pay phone?

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