Thursday, May 08, 2008

What Happened To All The Pay Phones?

Not long ago, RCN (my phone company) cut me off because I fell too far behind on my phone bill. (I currently owe $220.) I didn't want to fall behind, but I had no income other than a small check I was receiving every month from a woman in Missouri. I was scarcely able to pay my rent, much less pay that phone bill. (I should mention that a substantial part of the $220 was late fees, not charges for actual phone calls.)

I figured that if worse came to worst, I could continue to search for work by using a pay phone for the purpose of making calls related to my job search. I'd have used the pay phone in the building where I lived, except that it often got so noisy in the residential lounge that I could barely hear myself think, much less hear someone at the other end of the phone line. (That's one of the drawbacks of living in a building inhabited by large numbers of rude and thoughtless people. They're often so loud that it's virtually impossible to hear dialog when watching shows on the TV in the lounge.)

It was very annoying for me to have to walk over to the Omni Hotel or Northwestern Medical Center in order to make such calls and in order to check my voice mail messages (at 773-509-8126), but it was doable. That's what I've been doing for the past couple of months.

No more. I went to the Omni Hotel today, and I discovered that there was no longer a pay phone in that building! That was upsetting enough, but when I walked over to Northwestern, I discovered that their pay phones had been removed as well, with the exception of one last pay phone (in the Feinberg Pavilion) which (for all I know) could easily be removed soon as well.

What's going on? I have no idea. The fact that pay phones were removed from multiple unrelated locations seems to suggest that Ameritech itself is to blame. (That's the company which was identified as the phone service provider on all of those phones.)

I guess that explains the lousy service I've been getting from them when I've tried to make long distance calls from those pay phones. They no longer have any commitment to good pay phone service, probably because they're getting out of the pay phone business in Chicago.

The one pay phone remaining at Northwestern (in the Feinberg Pavilion) has a sign indicating that AT&T is the company behind that phone. So maybe that's why it hasn't been removed yet. But the way things seem to be going, I wouldn't be surprised to return to that location and find that phone missing as well.

It might come as a surprise to some people, but not everyone in the world has a cell phone! Some people just can't afford their own cell phones. Plus, people who do have cell phones sometimes find themselves in need of pay phones because they left their cell phones at home, or their cell phones were lost or broken. What are they supposed to do if they can't find pay phones in such situations? Build smoke signals?

It's a weird situation when one can buy a phone which will take photos and play MP3 files and YouTube videos and games, but one can't find a simple public pay phone with which to make a call when one needs to make a phone call.

It's really a scary situation for me. I am never going to get myself out of the financial pit I'm in if I can't get a job. But how am I supposed to get work if I can't even find a phone with which to check my voice mail messages or contact potential employers? True, I do tell people that e-mail is the best way to reach me whenever I speak with them. But they don't always heed that advice. And there are a number of Help Wanted ads where they don't even list an e-mail address, so my only choice if I want to be considered for such jobs is to call them on the phone during normal business hours.

I shudder to think what would happen if I could no longer use the computers at the Apple Store or the library for sending and receiving e-mail. I'd be almost completely cut off from potential employers. That's unlikely to happen at the library, but I've seen a lot of changes at the Apple Store since they first opened their doors here. Today, it's possible to just walk in the door and use one of their computers to send and receive e-mail. Tomorrow? Who knows?

I do have a friend who might conceivably let me go over to his apartment in the evening and check my voice mail messages. But I don't want to constantly impose on him. Besides, I have to be able to make calls during the daytime, too, if I'm going to call potential employers, most of whom are only accessible during business hours.

One possible solution may lie in the fact that there's a Life Development Center (LDC) on the 5th floor at the Lawson House YMCA. They have long offered certain services in connection with the search for employment. They've allowed me to use the fax machine to send out resumes. (They insist on operating the fax machine themselves, even though I'm perfectly capable of doing so myself without any help.) If I explain the dire situation in which I now find myself, perhaps I can persuade them to allow me to regularly use one of the phones in that office in order to make job-related calls during the daytime. I really hope so.

Obviously, the ideal would be for me to pay my phone bill at RCN so I could get my own phone service again. I definitely plan to pay that bill when I'm able to do so. But first I have to get a job and a decent income!

It's highly unlikely that anyone from the phone companies will ever read this blog post, but just for the record, I think that the current dearth of pay phones stinks. Of course, if they want to give me a cell phone for free (even if it's just a prepaid phone with a limited number of minutes), I might revise that opinion. But that's not likely to happen.

UPDATE: Here's a link to a document (created with Google Docs) containing some additional notes on this subject.

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