It is hard enough to find a pay phone these days in New York City, much less an actual phone booth. When I was a kid these iconic glass-and-steel structures were all over the streets and a symbol of this town, much like their bigger British red cousins found on the streets of London.
The New York City booth came complete with a folding door and a convenient metal shelf where one could write notes, place a package, or just lean an elbow. These booths not only provided a place to make a private call in public, they also seemed to be something of a respite from the maddening crowd rushing by.
The advent of the cellular phone has seriously diminished the presence of pay phones on the streets of New York, but the phone booths started disappearing well before we all had our individual communication devices in our pockets. That is why I was happily surprised to come across an actual, old-fashioned phone booth the other day in the borough of Queens.
Located in the comfort station at Alley Pond Park, the booth is missing its door. The ceiling fan was not functional (all the booths had a fan that was operated by a small switch located above the phone box), but the phone actually worked –which is not the case for many of the remaining pay phones in New York City. I stood there staring at it for a few moments, not only appreciating its battered beauty, but also realizing that it is one of the last of its kind.
Later on when I showed the booth to my daughter, she wondered “What the heck is that?” I wanted to explain the history of the thing, but instead I joked and said, “It’s where Superman used to change into his costume.” She looked at me like I must be crazy, and if I didn’t know better I’d say that she was right.