The Phone Call

I decided to try something a bit different. Let me know what you think:

Chicago has always been my kind of town. I’ve been there several times, mostly on business or training, and did not regret a single minute of it.  From the moment I enter the subway at O’Hare and take the Red Line south there’s a familiarity about it that almost feels like home.

Here I was again arriving alone for more training on software the hospital I work for uses. No one ever goes to training with me at work and, quite frankly, it doesn’t really bother me. I actually like flying solo on my excursions. But I never realized that this visit would change me in ways I didn’t think possible.

I had just finished eating my usual deep dish pizza at the original Uno restaurant. Yes, the one that started it all. Don’t bother going to the chain ones you see. Those just aren’t the same. Corporate always has a way of ruining things. But I highly recommend the original if you’re in town. I like to sit at the bar and order a Chicago Classic when I’m there. That and a Goose 312. The deep dish and beer is more than enough to put me into food coma for the rest of the night.

As I waddled outside into the twilight I began to take in the whole Chicago vibe. The lights on the Harley Davidson store down the street caught my eye and although they don’t actually sell the motorcycles there it was a place to go to get some swag. A way to be biker even if you didn’t ride. I began to wonder how a store like that stays in business in downtown Chicago. I surmised that just the presence of Harley Davidson in the big city was more than enough for the company to just pump endless amounts of cash into an unprofitable store.

I thought about the possibility of taking in a Cubs game if the conference sessions got out at a reasonable time.  That is, unless the sales guy wants to take a bunch of attendees out to dinner. I was never one to pass up a free meal. And in my world free food trumps baseball every time. I could easily find time to hob nob and chat with other people from different hospitals I’d probably never see again. Provided of course, a steak was involved. 

And that’s when I noticed it.

It was all too familiar but something I hadn’t seen for a very long time in it’s natural habitat. I was standing next to what was probably the last phone booth on the face of the Earth. The same one that has the word “Telephone” etched across it or the one that Clark Kent used to change into Superman. The ones I thought had gone the way of the dinosaur since cell phones became all the rage. 

I’ve always loved using the old school phone. Even when I was around eight or nine and would only receive maybe one or two calls a week from the neighbor kid across the street, the whole telephone process fascinated me. As a child I loved how you could pick up a receiver and roto dial (we’re talking “old school” here) a number and someone else would answer. And when my family finally talked AT&T into giving us a push button phone, I was living in the big time for sure.

I even have some battle wounds to show for my phone touting experience. But the scars are in a place I usually keep covered. You see, I used to like to dial the operator just for the hell of it. There’s something about dialing a zero that was just too good to pass up.

Of course, when she would answer I would always giggle and then hang up.  And after about the third or fourth time doing so my father would later receive a phone call from her scolding him for allowing children to dial the operator. Let’s just say it didn’t end well for me.

And don’t get me started about those old “Dial a Joke” Jim Backus commercials on television. “Just call 976-JOKE for today’s joke… CALL NOW!”, Mr Howell would plead. And who was I to pass up anything when the guy who also played Mr. Magoo told me to call? I think at one point my ass was red for a week when the phone bill had an extra $25 on it from me half listening to his stupid jokes at 99 cents a minute. Funny now, not funny then.

Even before Dad passed away three years ago I still remember us having a good laugh about it at his bedside. As the IV’s pumped morphine into him and he was in so much pain it was unbearable something about me telling him the red ass phone stories made him laugh so hard it was infectious. And for a moment I wondered if  laughter could possibly be the cure for cancer. It was not.

But yeah, me and the phone go way back together.

This booth actually still had the phone book dangling from one of those little chains and I imagined how many people let their fingers do the walking over the years. I had a strange urge to see what year the phone book actually said. My guess would be 2001. But before I could verify and claim victory for my guess the phone abruptly started ringing. Ringing and no one there to answer it. No one but me.

Ring one.

Now I was never one to pass up an opportunity. Or maybe it was my subconscious telling me that it was Jim Backus calling but that deviant young kid who liked to have his phone fun started to come out. I’m in a big city, there’s no possiblity of a red ass and besides, I have absolutely nothing to do until my training conference starts tomorrow.  So I began thinking of ways I would answer the phone. Would I say something like “Dave’s Pizza – We Deliver”? Or maybe I could talk in a Chinese voice and be the dry cleaner down the street. Either way, this was going to be good.

Ring two.

Just to be sure, I  looked around again  just to verify that no one else was there waiting for a call and slowly stepped into the booth. I could feel the claustrophobia of the small booth and the smell of old cigarettes engulfed me but I was on a mission.  

Ring three.

When I finally picked up the receiver I had already decided on being a rep for Dave’s Pizza.

“Dave’s Pizza – We Deliver. Can I take your order?”, I said.

That’s when my heart-felt like it stopped. I could feel a vacuum in the phone booth taking out all of the air. It was hard for me to breathe. Dave’s Pizza was out of business and everything turned to black and white. The person on the other end simply said “Jimmy… Jimmy it’s me”…


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