When was the last time you noticed a telephone booth in Salem? They used to be ubiquitous, both in real life and pop culture. Many of us once used them to call someone for a ride home. Clark Kent turned phone booths into changing rooms for his transformation into Superman. Bill and Ted used one to travel back in time. And Doctor Who’s TARDIS is styled after a type of phone booth.
Despite today’s widespread use of cell phones, I was surprised to find that not all telephone booths have disappeared. I found them lurking in the back of gas station parking lots, obscured by shrubs and fences. More surprising, though, were the ones that were right out in the open, displayed prominently on street corners. Some of them I passed weekly without noticing.
With the exception of one, all of the booths that I photographed were in working order — although they were in varying states of ruin. With patches of rust covering their metal walls, and phone numbers and other graffiti scratched into the glass, they all reflected past years of use — and a lack of commitment to their upkeep. One I found in an ARCO gas station parking lot contained a smashed handset.
But I also observed signs of more recent visits. One booth, near Rock-n-Rogers on Market Street, reminded me of a college dorm room. Junk food and fast food packages littered the floor and some pills sat on the shelf.
We may like to think phone booths are obsolete, but they still serve a purpose for some. Start keeping an eye out for them as you travel around Salem. You’ll be surprised how many you see.
Pacific Pride, 13th and Waller streets SE
Marion and Church streets NE
Rock-n-Rogers, Market Street NE
ARCO, Market Street NE
ARCO, Commercial and Mission streets SE
Sarah Fishler Rice has lived in a number of places on this planet, but now calls Salem home. She enjoys riding her bike to Roth’s for doughnuts.