The Big Question

Why not?
The real question is: What?

What it is is a public phone booth situated way out in the middle of nowhere. It's 15 miles off I-15 in Southern California at the side of a dirt road that continues off into the distance, going nowhere. There's nothing there but the phone booth -- no 7/11, no gas station, no nothing. There's no there there.

The closest structure is a homestead, sort of a ramshackle collection of trailer homes and shacks, about five miles away. Rumor has it there used to be an active mine nearby and the phone was there for the miners, but the mine is apparently no more and the miners have all gone away. The folks who live at the place up the road use The Booth as their personal telephone. There's never a wait.

Steve found the phone first. Well, actually Godfrey did. Okay, it was Godfrey's friend, but she turned him onto it, he put it on the Web where Steve saw it, Steve put it on the Web where I saw it, and now you're seeing it, too. All this Web activity for a forlorn phone booth. Who says people don't care?

I called The Booth after Steve talked about it in his journal. I don't exactly know why I did, I think I just liked the perverseness of knowing it was out there and I wanted to reach out and touch it. I wanted to make a noise in the desert from the comfort of my own office.

It was busy.

It was 2:00 a.m., I couldn't believe anyone was really on the phone at that hour, but I convinced myself that someone was. The alternative, that the phone was out of order, would have crushed the fantasy. We cling to our fantasies around here, Jack, by whatever whisper-thin rationalizations necessary. Yeah, sure, someone's using the phone now, at 2:00 a.m. Of course they are. Couldn't be anything else.

Reality has a way of grinding rationalizations down, though. I kept thinking about that phone being busy and wondering if maybe, just maybe, someone hadn't been using it. Wondering if it could be ... out of order? No. I put it off for awhile, clinging, but finally gave in and called again.

It was still busy. Odds against someone actually using it both times I called? Astronomical. Odds of it being out of order? Sure thing.

Dang. That took all the fun out of it. What good is a phone booth in the middle of the desert if you can't call it just to hear it ring in the middle of the night? That phone being busy brought me down a little bit, kind of depressed me some.

I wrote to Steve and half-jokingly said we should drive out there and hang it up. We knew each other from e-mail but had never met in person, so I didn't expect him to take me seriously. It was just another fun, jokey e-mail sent to a net-buddy.

He answered almost immediately: When do we leave?

Well, hmm... Why not?

We left on Sunday.



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