Quarters were the preferred currency of my middle school class. It was the perfect coin and it had so many uses. You could cash them in for ice cream bars at the school cafeteria, scrounge up eight to ten of them for a pack of smokes, or use them to play "Bloody Knuckles".
With so many wonderful uses for quarters, you’d never want to waste one in a payphone to call your parents for a ride home. But before everyone had a cell phone, after-school activities would leave you in a precarious predicament. Did you hang on to the quarter for the ride home, or roll the dice and chance that you could bum a ride from someone else’s parents? There had to be a better way.
Thankfully, collect calling existed. For those who don’t know, collect calling is a way to call someone from a pay phone without putting money into it. A third party service connects you to who you’re trying to reach, and if that person accepts to pay for the call, you can talk to them.
We knew about collect calling thanks to the wonderful marketing campaigns of programs like 1-800-COLLECT (“Save a buck or two!”) and 1-800-CALL-ATT (“Dial down the middle!”).
And it worked great. My parents would get a call with a pre-recorded message saying, “Hello! You have received a collect call from” and then they’d hear my voice saying, “Kevpickmeup”. You only had a second to state your name so you had to make it count. Then my parents would hang up, not accepting charges for the call, and come to get me. It was brilliant. We were beating the system!
Of course the first time I tried this my parents didn’t get what I was trying to do and accepted charges for the call. Then they hit me because it was something crazy like $60 per minute.
Payphones in general were pretty great, and reflecting on it, I’m sad to see them go. They were yet another beacon of entertainment for a bunch of 13-year-olds in the dog days of summer. At that age nothing was funnier than prank calling 1-800-DENTIST or 1-800-LAWYER, or calling the phone sex hotlines that used to be in the back of Rolling Stone (are they still there? Note to self: check on that) and listening to the sultry voice ask for credit card info.
The ultimate was making a pay phone ring itself. You’d dial 551 and the last four digits of the phone, then when you heard the beep, press down the receiver once and then hang up. Three seconds later the phone would start ringing and it wouldn’t stop until someone picked up. If there is something more hilarious than watching someone answer a ringing payphone with no one on the other end, I haven’t identified it.
Phone booths were even better. I tried to hook up with a girl once in the phone booth in the old Triplex theater. Those were the days.
I love my cell phone, but I guess I’m a little sad that my kids won’t be able to check coin returns for quarters. As for calling me collect, they’ll have to figure that one out. They’re not getting cell phones until they’re 27.blog comments powered by Disqus
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