With new technology busting forth from the minds of companies (and an eager market’s voracious appetite for all things new and shiny) pay phones seem to be a useless reminder of a time without portable devices. In my experience, pay phones are used for two things: 1- to find in an emergency when your phone is dead/are suddenly the main character of a horror film, and 2- to discover what 1-800 name-to-number combinations produce (for those of you wondering, my name can be linked to a sex-line). Pay phones are frequently considered as useless relics of times gone by…
But if that were true, I would not have started writing this post.
Downtown bus terminals of most metropolises have an array of things to offer. For example, Saint Catharines’ has a few vending machines, a sandwich station, and (of course) the aforementioned pay phones. On this particular day that my story takes place, I was waiting for the bus to work. Dressed in my casual uniform I watched as a man clutched onto one of said pay-phones for dear life. This man, presumably within his late 20s or early 30s, was speaking to whom I can only guess was (for if she still is, I worry) his girlfriend. The nature of their conversation pulled me from my music.
Teary-eyed and sharp-toned, the man began to talk about a variety of things. From what I could surmise, the main focus was that he had money and was leaving town for Alberta to avoid being arrested (again, he said loudly). His voice choked up as he counted down the minutes left that his conversational partner had to speak with him before his Greyhound bus arrived. Calling his ‘beloved’ a series of derogatory names, he confessed to possessing a large amount of some illicit drug at his home and having “over $5000.00 cash on [him]”. This connoisseur of pay phones was beginning to attract quite a bit of attention as he lamented over how his “other girls” had provided him with more cash flow for specific (here unnamed) acts. It was at this time that I realized the private investigators of the pre-cell phone era probably had it easier than those of today. The Pimp (who everyone was now watching) again burst into a fit of tears, expressing a loud remorse at the caller’s reluctance to see him ‘one last time’ before he left in spite of his threats of violence.
I have known an array of colourful people; having grown up in a small-town with an even smaller-town feel I have seen quite a lot, and heard quite a bit more. Yet the experience of seeing this man arrange a meeting with a woman whom he simultaneously threatened and confessed his love for was entirely new. Pimp-man arranged to meet this person in front of a local tattoo parlour (which will remain nameless), exclaiming that he would wait there far beyond the time advisable for him to meet his count-down bus. He bravely asserted that she could call the cops if she wanted, and the scene ended to the sounds of his snuffles and shuffling away.
Pan to my alert and worried reaction.
I am from the school of thought that hesitates to support full on fist-fights, even between two consenting adults. I had a cell phone however, and so decided to call the place where the meet up was to occur. Sadly, after my strained and awkward description of a ‘white man in a hood with his face mostly covered’ (which prompted an “… alright… thanks.” from the establishment’s call-taker), I was forced to put the events from my thoughts to catch my bus. In the end, I was off to work and the stranger was off to a potentially MMA-themed meet-and-greet.
Is this the new direction for pay phones in our cell phone saturated society? Maybe the TV shows that depict an assortment of criminally charged conversations held on such devices are not so far off. Perhaps the days of Steve Martin-like business men calling their loved ones to complain about the interruption of services to their Planes, Trains, or Automobiles is over. Then again, I have a cell phone, and so it could be that Mr. Strange Pimp is an entirely new manifestation of pay-phone users. I may always be left wondering what happened after my inspired transition into the lamest rendition of Batman. Perhaps even now that stranger is drifting from pay phone to pay phone, guaranteeing the relevance of this older technology and calling an assortment of people to threaten… or perhaps he used some of his $5000.00 to buy himself a phone. Either way, he will always live on as a story story of mine, and a devoted customer of our nation’s pay phone industry.