On Call

The Jetsons got a lot right. Flying cars are now a reality. Zoom meetings. Robot vacuum cleaners. And video phones.

One thing that was absent from that cartoon show was something that’s been around for well over 100 years. Something we still use today, and I think will still be around in some form: The regular old telephone.

We don’t use a rotary phone anymore (maybe some of us still do), but if I had to narrow it down and pick just one telephone to use, it would be the rotary phone.

There’s just something about a rotary telephone that takes me back to a time when communicating with someone else seemed more special than it does today.

I have a box of rotary phones I saved, and some I picked up at a yard sale. They’re all black. Some are for hanging on the wall, while others are desk phones. I cleaned them up for use as decorations.

Like ashtrays, they’re great conversation pieces.

Rotary phones would still work if the phone system infrastructure were still in place. But most phone companies don’t support the old phone lines anymore. That’s too bad.

During Hurricane Ike in 2008, the cell phones were all down because the towers were knocked out. We still had a landline, but our cordless phone worked on electricity, which was also out.

But I’d remembered something I’d learned in school. The old rotary phones worked on 9 volts of direct current. So, I dug out one of the old rotary phones I’d collected and plugged it in. Sure enough, it worked.

I was able to call my parents and others outside the hurricane-affected area and let them know we were OK.

Using the telephone used to be a privilege. Today, children have their own cell phone. I’m not talking about teenagers; I’m talking about little children.

My nephew has a phone and he’s 10. When I was 10 I was talking into a fan to sound like a robot.

Who do you need to call when you are 10? Another kid to hear him talking into a fan to sound like a robot?

It’s not my place to judge parents on what they give their kids, but c’mon, really? A cell phone? At age 10? How about some Lincoln Logs? Some Legos?

I didn’t know how to call anyone until the third grade. My family didn’t have a phone until then. And we just had one phone. It was yellow and hung on the kitchen wall.

Getting a phone was a big deal. But it was just for the grown ups. Kids were allowed to use the phone whenever grandparents called to wish you a happy birthday or a Merry Christmas.

Now, one way a kid could use the phone, and was encouraged to do so if necessary, was a pay phone.

Pay phones used to be everywhere. Today, they’re as uncommon as a two people agreeing on politics.

Movie theaters, restaurants, malls, and other common areas were filled with pay phones.

Less common, but conveniently located were phone booths. You’d find phone booths at bus stations, motels, even along major roadways.

As a kid, if you saw a pay phone or a pay phone in a phone booth, you checked the change slot. If you were living right there’d be a few dimes in there. Some folks didn’t know that if you put a dime in and called the operator for assistance, you got your dime back.

On a recent trip to northern Oklahoma, I pulled into a convenience store. There, right in front of the store, was a phone booth.

The phone book holder inside the booth was still there, but the phone book wasn’t. Neither was half of the phone handset. The mouthpiece was there, but the earpiece half was gone.

Someone had neatly hung up what was left in the cradle.

That’s another thing about cell phones. You can’t slam down the phone to hang up on someone like you could with a rotary phone.

Well, you can, but you’ll have to take your cell phone to the repair shop afterwards.

Repairs weren’t something you needed very often on the old rotary phones. Especially the one at your great grandmother’s house that was made in the 1930’s. The handsets on those could be used to fend off an entire army during a zombie apocalypse.

I’m glad the Jetsons got some things right. But I’m hanging on to my rotary phones just in case.

If you and your 10-year-old’s cell phones quit during a zombie apocalypse, let me know. I’ve got a couple of extra phones. One is from my great grandmother’s place.


©2023 John Moore

John’s books, Puns for Groan People and Write of Passage: A Southerner’s View of Then and Now Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, are available on his website – TheCountryWriter.com, where you can also send him a message and hear his weekly podcast.

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