Droppin’ a Dime

Want to know where the phrase “droppin’ a dime” on someone came from? It was what a phone call cost Back in the Day. These coeds are waiting their turn to step into iconic phone booths outside Scott Quadrangle, my old dorm at Ohio University in 1967.

They are probably waiting because you were lucky if one of the three were actually working. (You can click on the photos to make them larger.)

No helicopter parents in our day

Buddy Jim Stone, who attempts to pour physics into student heads at Boston University, was talking about “helicopter parents” the last time we got together in Cape. In these days of cell phones, email, Facebook and texting, parents are involved in their kids’ lives to an unhealthy degree, he contended: parents don’t give their kids an opportunity to solve their own problems. The world conspired to force us to be more independent, he pointed out.

  • College kids in our generation weren’t virtually connected.
  • Dorm rooms didn’t even have phones until late in my junior year. There would be one or two hall phones per floor that would be answered (maybe) by someone walking by when they rang. You might or might not get notified that you had a call.
  • There was no privacy. There was usually a line waiting impatiently for you to get off the phone.
  • Ohio was cold in the winter and it would rain for days, things that didn’t lend themselves to long outdoor conversations.
  • Long distance was exotic and expensive. You didn’t call home unless it was IMPORTANT (like, you were broke).
  • The coin-operated phones would become so stuffed with change that you couldn’t make a call until they were emptied by the phone company, something it took its own sweet time doing.
  • By the time you finally DID get around to calling home, you had probably already worked out your problems yourself (except for being broke).

Calls used to be a nickel

You can see from the instructions on the phone that “ONE nickel will NOT work. Use TWO nickels or one dime.”

I’ll never forget one telephone booth on the west coast of Florida. I had been chasing a hurricane all day, alternately being buffeted by the wind and deluged by horizontal rain. I needed to check in with my Number Two guy at home to see what was going on at the office, so I was happy to see the glow of a phone booth in front of a gas station off in the distance. I ran from the car to the booth, which was rocking in the wind hard enough to make me wonder if it was going to pull loose from its slab. Directly overhead was a huge swinging advertising sign. If that puppy snaps off, I thought, it’ll slice this booth and its contents – me – like a guillotine blade, leaving me both twice the man and half the man I started out with.

To make the experience worse, John and Susan had just adopted a baby and thought it was “cute” to have a long answering machine message that featured the baby crying. Never much fond of “cute” under favorable circumstances, I found this less than amusing while contemplating my mortality. I “gently” suggested that he go for a shorter greeting for the duration of the storm.

Other phone booths