The idea of a working phone booth on a dirt road in the middle of the Mojave desert, over a dozen miles from the nearest pavement, is intriguing to me.
It caught the interest of the wonderful radio/podcast (I don’t really make a distinction any more) called 99% Invisible. The program is about “all the thought that goes into the things we don’t think about — the unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world. You probably never heard of it because somehow podcasts are still kind of a fringe thing, but with 80 million downloads, 99% Invisible is one of the most popular podcasts on iTunes.
Last week I listened to their show about that phone booth. They track one person, Godfrey (“Doc”) Daniels, obsession with it. He read about it in a zine called Wig Out! letter to the editor back in 1997.
Dear Wig Out!,
Recently, I spotted a small dot with the word “telephone” beside it on a map of the Mojave desert, 15 miles from the main interstate in the middle of nowhere.
Intrigued, I donned a cheap, brown serape and a pair of wing-tips and headed out to find it in my old jeep. After many hours I do find it (the glass is shot out and the phone book is missing) but it works! Apparently, this booth was put in after WWII for the use of a nearby mine which ceased operations in the 60s; why the local phone company keeps it operational is anybody’s guess.
A nearby rancher told me that in the 70s they replaced the old rotary style phone with push buttons because the sheep were having trouble dialing…
Doc didn’t know where it was or if it really existed. But the letter had a phone number for it and he called. It rang, but no one answered. He continued to call and even got others to call.
After a month of tries, he got a busy signal. Someone was there. He kept calling repeatedly and finally he caught the person who was using the phone and she picked up. I’ll leave the details for you to discover when you listen to the program, but I’ll say that the phone was used by some people who had no phone of their own. This was 1997 in that distant century before cell phones. He talked to her for a bit. He was so excited that he forgot to ask about the exact location of the phone booth.
Doc eventually track down the location and went for a visit.
It was 1997 and the Internet was new for most of us, but Doc created a webpage and it went as viral as a page might go back in 1997.
People contacted him, sent him news clippings from all over the world about this off, cultish desert phone booth.
The Mojave Phone Booth started getting a lot more calls. People made pilgrimages to the site.
It became very popular. Too popular. The phone booth was located on a nature preserve and the National Park Service was not happy about all the visitors, traffic and the ringing phone. The booth was removed in 2000.
It reminds me of the story of Chris McCandless who went to Alaska, somewhat ill-prepared but full of the Romance of adventure. He starved to death there.
But people continue to visit, pilgrim-like, the abandoned bus that Chris lived in. What are they hoping to find there?
A trip the Mojave location after 2000 would have found you staring at the concrete slab where the booth once sat. But even the slab was removed. Some people tried to mark it with a plaque.
The number that Doc was calling is still around, if you want to give it a try. 760-733-9969 is not the Mojave Phone Booth, but perhaps its ghost will answer. It is like making a call out to the universe.
If you’re out in the deserts of the American Southwest, you might want to combine your trip with a journey following the large concrete arrows (seventy feet in length) that are there. They may have a logical origin, but I’d like to believe that they might be landing beacons for UFOs.
I’m a follower of Dolphin 56. Back in 1979, he was captured along with five other dolphins in Florida. They were assigned the numbers 55, 56, 57, 58 and 59. Dolphin 56 was estimated to be about 12 years old. He was weighed and measured and branded with the number “56”.
He was spotted over the years from Florida to New Jersey. He was very comfortable, perhaps too comfortable, with people. He became the most comprehensively tracked dolphins on the East Coast. A Facebook page was set up in 2009 to track his movement. People posted photos and video of their sightings.
Dolphin Dolphin 56 went missing around 2012, but people continue to look for him, just like people go to Alaska and to the the place where the phone once sat. The last reported sighting I found reported was that in July 2011 the dolphin was photographed off the coast of Wales – which I find incredible, and not very believable. I prefer to think he is headed back to Jersey waters now as the ocean warms up.
Mojave Phone Booth website http://deuceofclubs.com/moj/mojave.htm
Doc did a Kickstarter to get some bucks to write a book about his phone booth adventure.