May 27, 2010

The rare Upper West Side phone booth species

Today, I walked by this:
This is one of the very last remaining outdoor telephone booths in Manhattan—if this website is to be believed, we've got a grand total of five (this one offers some more insight). And oddly, four are on West End Avenue, three of them not far from my White Harlem 'hood (a.k.a. Morningside Heights).

Despite the world-conquering ubiquity of mobile phones, there are still a whole bunch of payphones in NYC, even if you haven't used one since 1997. It's just that they're on exposed podiums, in open-air enclosures, sheltered by skimpy overhangs. The classic American telephone booth—with the accordion door, the battered White Pages hanging from a metal cord, the inconveniently ubiquitous homeless person—is nearing extinction. That tiny piece of conversational privacy on the frantic streets of Manhattan is virtually gone, and I wish I'd had the time (and real reason) to slip into that booth and dial someone's number.

But why are the tony residents of the UWS the only ones who've felt it necessary to keep a few of these on hand? Does Superman live in this neighborhood? Are a couple dozen 1950s college students trying to break records nearby? Is a pesky sniper hoping Colin Farrell will stop by? I just ask the questions, I don't necessarily answer them.