Ringless in D-ville

No call zone.

No call zone.

SN&R Photo By Ken Widmann

One of those kiln-cured August weekends two years ago, my wife and I entertained friends, a married couple named Jake and JJ, in from Denver. After burritos and aguas frescas at El Mariachi, Jake and I decided to poke around downtown while the gals took off in the car for points unknown. The plan was that in a few hours, we would call for a ride home.

After maybe 20 minutes of Saharan ambling, Jake and I decided to radio in early. Too hot. Problem was, my cell phone was gone, inadvertently left in my wife’s purse. Jake’s was recharging back at the house. We were phoneless (and—gasp—text, Web and e-mail-less, too). So we set out in search of a public pay phone. We may as well have needed a blacksmith—there aren’t many around, even in civic-minded Davis.

Shielding our eyes from the late afternoon sun, we found ourselves at the corner of 4th and E, before a store called Pet Cetera. Dusty fish tanks lined the walls, most of them empty. A few miserable guppies bobbed in cloudy water. The place had a going-out-of-business feel. A grim, straight-backed woman eyed us from behind the counter, her hope that I was there to purchase a school of Japanese fighting fish quickly dashed by my polite request.

“Local call?” she said, pointedly.

To ensure I wasn’t taking Pet Cetera for a 1-900 ride, she insisted on dialing my home number herself, on a rotary phone no less. (Remember those? Man, are they slow. You could write two e-mails in the time it takes for the number nine to reload). No answer at my house. I switched to Plan B: Call my wife’s cell. But … that required a 916 area code. I didn’t feel like beggaring this place with a toll call, so we thanked her and left.

We made our way around the corner, sticking tight to the building to maximize shade, and there it was—a pay phone. I ran up, reached for the handle and—there was no handle. Just a shock of exposed wires where the receiver had been before being vandalized. The wound did not look fresh.

The glass doors of nearby Silver Dragon restaurant opened, and we stepped inside. Another fish tank. I explained our needs to the hostess. I could see our salvation on the counter, a large office model with multiple lines and blinking lights.

“Not working!” she said, and handed me the handset for verification. I leaned over and punched line one. Nothing.

Perhaps a cold drink would help us regroup? We huffed into Steve’s Pizza and—voilà! A coin-op GTE model was bolted inside the doorway. I performed a 35-keystroke calling-card concerto, including access code and pin, and buzzed my wife. Only, her phone was turned off. Then I dialed myself. If my own cell phone rang in my wife’s purse, she says she never heard it. My head wilted like sautéed spinach.

Jake stepped up with a pile of quarters and punched in JJ’s Colorado-based cell. We heard ringing! Then we didn’t. (Later, we would learn that—not recognizing the strange 530 number popping up on her Colorado-based phone—she ignored it. Or so she claimed). Our last bullet was a collect call. Would she accept?

“Can we call you guys back later?” JJ said. “We’re getting our nails done.”