The Mohave Phone Booth
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Wed, 29 Sep 99 14:43:46 -0700
Subject: The Mohave Phone Booth
X-Lib-of-Cong-ISSN: 1098-7649 -=[ Fun_People ]=-
A Pointless Exercise in Telephony
by _Godfrey Daniels_
_YOU can help save Lorene's cinder mine!_
[To find out how, visit the web page... -psl]
On 26 May 1997 I went to see Tacoma band _Girl Trouble_ at a club near
where I live. I used to swap zines with Girl Trouble's drummer Bon von
Wheelie, who puts out Wig Out!, the band's zine. I had tried to see Girl
Trouble five or six years ago at a crappy club where I waited through three
bands only to find out this "Girl Trouble" was some lousy geriatric heavy
metal band that stole the name! Anyway, it was fun to meet the real Girl
Trouble finally. ("I wondered whatever happened to you!" said Bon. All I
could say in my defense was that I went electronic....)
Anyway, Bon had the latest issue of Wig Out! with her, & the first thing to
catch my eye when I got home was a letter to the editor from a certain
Nicholas Von Robision (sic?) of Huntington Beach, California, who wrote:
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
Oh, if you're interested, the number is (619) 733-9969. Let it ring
a long time if you want a response.
[NOTE (4/98): The area code has since been changed to 760.]
I began calling every day, taping each call. As the line rang, I would state
the date & time of the call. Anyone who visited my house since then has been
required to call, identifying herself/himself on the tape, saying the date,
time, & anything else that occurred to them. I stuck a Post-It( note to my
bathroom mirror as a daily reminder: "Did you remember to call the Mojave
Desert today?" So far I had half an hour's worth of tape of a ringing line
accompanied by miscellaneous/extraneous comments of visitors. (E.g.: "It's
May the 31st in the middle of nowhere. This is _Coppe_ ringing! So you
better pick it up!" Then: "Water ... waaaaater ....")
The equation, as I figured it, went something like: enough calls + enough
time = someday + someone + answer.
I was prepared to call for years.
Then, on June 20th--less than a month after I started calling--at
approximately ten in the morning, I heard...a busy signal!
"No WAY!" I shouted. I thought I must have dialed incorrectly. I dialed
again. Right number, still busy! Either there was something wrong with the
line--which I thought most likely--or there was a real human being talking
on the phone in the middle of the Mojave Desert! I kept pushing the Redial
button until, about three minutes later, the line started ringing. Then I
heard an actual, human voice. In my excitement, I managed to yank the
microphone plug out of the recorder, so that's why her responses don't
appear in the first part of the transcript.
Here's the transcript of the call. Mostly it's just me saying "Wow!"
Godfrey: Hello?!? Uh...are you in the Mojave Desert? You are? I'm sorry
[couldn't hear well at first]...you are in the Mojave Desert, right? Okay,
this is going to sound like a strange question. I've been calling this
number every day for a while, just to see if anybody would ever answer it,
and so I have to ask you: Why are you in the middle of the Mojave Desert?
Oh! You live out there, and you don't have a phone. Oh...'cos this is about,
what? Fifteen miles off the Interstate? Wow! So you live out there. How do
you like living out there? [She says she loves it.] I've always wanted to
live in the middle of the ... well, I live in Arizona. I'm calling from
Phoenix. But I used to live out in the middle of the desert. Well, I'm glad
you did, because, seriously, I've been calling this number every day for
about a month. Somebody gave me this number in the middle of nowhere, so
I've been...there's a what? [I finally manage to plug in the damn phone
Mojave Lady: There's a cattle guard.
How long have you lived in the Mojave Desert?
Well--on and off--all my life.
So what do you do out there?
What kind of mining?
Cinders. Volcanic cinders.
What do you do with volcanic cinders?
They make cinder block with 'em.
And they use 'em for landscaping, or road control, [inaudible] control.
I didn't realize they used real cinder for cinder block. I thought they just
made it out of cement.
Nooo. It's real cinders. It's a lightweight aggregate.
Wow. And you've lived out there all your life.
No. No, no, no, no.
No. I've lived in the city, too, but I've lived out here on and off all my
You like it better out there, huh?
Wow! That's just so cool that somebody finally answered! I think that's so
COOL! Seriously, I'm going to come visit that phone booth someday.
Yeah, you ought to!
Yeah, I'm going to come out there and I'm going to write on the phone booth;
I'm gonna say--
It's right in the middle of the east Mojave National Preserve.
Now what would be the nearest town?
The nearest town of any size?
Well, any town that would have a gas station, for example.
At the turn-off. At Cima Road.
Is that off of I-10?
I-15. Yeah, it's on the way to, you know, between Baker and Vegas.
So how often do you come and make phone calls?
Uh...it depends on...who I need to call.
I mean, is it once a month, or...
Well, when we're hauling water we stop and make calls so I can get messages.
Wow, you gotta haul water and everything!
So where you live there's just no services.
Right. We're twelve-and-a-half miles off the freeway.
Do you use generators for electricity?
That's so COOL!
Yeah, I know.
But it's like a regular house & stuff.
Wow! So you have to be real careful how much electricity you use, how much
water you use--
Well...yeah. Probably moreso than most.
Wow. Do you even have neighbors?
Uh...we have a couple that live out here and help us with the mine that
have, uh, mobile outfits.
You just like being alone.
That's so COOL!
Forever, and not see other people or other buildings or other traffic.
Ohhhh you don't know how appealing that sounds right about now.
And we're about 4500 feet, so it's considerably cooler than Phoenix.
Is that right? What's the temperature right now?
Oh, it's probably in the seventies.
Are you serious?
It's a little breezy, so it's cooler now, but we don't get over a hundred
very often. Baker does, but we don't.
It's about a hundred and five here. Right now! [This was in the morning.]
Right, well we're supposed to get to that in Vegas today, but we won't get
So the nearest big city would be Vegas.
Right, we're about seventy-five miles from there.
Do you go to Vegas much?
More often than I like. I just went yesterday.
Is that where you go when you have to do a lot of shopping?
When we have to get parts, & shopping, & mail. We have to go fifty miles to
get our mail.
Wow, how often do you do that?
Oh, probably once a week or so.
When you do grocery shopping, do you shop for like a month's worth?
No, 'cos somebody's usually going in at least once a week.
So you go to Vegas to do that?
Uh-huh. Or we have a place over by [Ridge Crest?]. We go over there.
I hope you don't mind my asking all these questions.
Nah, that's okay!
I'm just really fascinated, and when I got the busy signal I went, Wow!
Somebody's there! So I just kept hitting Redial, Redial, Redial. Then I got
the ring and I went, Yes!
I thought, I gotta answer it, I mean, nobody calls out here.
So the phone booth...is it just sitting by the road?
Uh, yeah, by the dirt road, going over to the other mine.
So there's a dirt road and then there's just a phone booth sitting there.
Do you know why it's there?
Well...because it's the only communications we have out here.
Someone said it's been there so long it might have been military.
Nah. It's been shot up, there's no windows left in it. Originally it was
quite a ways from here, it was about three dozen miles from here when my
father and mother were out here mining the mine.
Wow, your parents are from there, too!
Well, they've had the mine since 1948. And we had the phone booth down where
the road splits off [unintelligible]. And my dad had to pay the phone bill
on it, and people kept stealing money out of it, so he had to--
[Unintelligible because the strange clicking noise that's been going during
the whole call suddenly got louder. I hate the FBI. (JUST KIDDING!)]
Are you hearing that weird noise?
Does it always do that?
Yeah, on and off, yeah.
I hope that's not a Geiger counter.
That would be bad!
No, it's just something in this phone line. It's a long, long, long
I always figured that if someone ever picked up--I mean, I figured I'd be
calling this number for years--and I thought if someone picked up it'd be
someone broke down or something.
No, I'm just making my phone calls.
My name's Godfrey, by the way. What's yours?
Mine is Lorene.
Lorene, it's nice to meet you!
If the phone's ever ringing again, pick it up. It'll be me.
I'll do that.
After I hung up I thought of so many more things I'd like to ask. I decided
to keep calling. Maybe Lorene would answer again sometime; maybe someone
else would pick up. Maybe I would enter local lore as "That Guy Who Calls
the Old Phone Booth for No Reason." Maybe when I showed up to visit The
Phone (on the way to Burning Man '97), they would throw me a party. Maybe
they would throw me a necktie party. One thing I knew: I would inscribe my
name on the booth along with a message: If you hear this phone ringing, pick
it up: it's me!
© 1999 Peter Langston