Farewell, old friend. OK, we were never really close. But you were always there when I needed you. You never asked for much in return. Rain or snow, day or night, I could depend on you. Unless, of course, your coin slot was stuffed or your wire was snapped. In which case I could find another just like you.
I am not too sentimental, but I cannot help but mark your imminent passing. Even though I have neglected – indeed, all but forgotten – you in recent years, when I suddenly needed you this week, there you were. In return for a mere 50 cents, wounds were healed, our bond renewed. No apologies, no regrets. If only all relationships were so tidy.
I can imagine how you feel these days. Once you were everywhere, needed and depended upon. Now you are scarce and ignored, used so infrequently that you essentially hide in plain sight. Like the last of the dinosaurs, you are nearly extinct. It was no Ice Age that tolled your bell, but the merciless blast of wireless technology. Once a street-corner anchor, now an anachronism. It is a sorry fate, to be robbed of purpose. It is the same with people. Age and time take a toll. Everything eventually gets replaced. Something better comes along. The cellphone is seemingly as indispensable today as shoes. Even your stay-at-home cousin, the stalwart landline, is on borrowed time.
Yes I know, back in the day you were part of the action at every bar, restaurant, bus station and building lobby. Lovers used you to whisper fevered promises, street-corner Samaritans called on you for help. Vows were made, hearts broken, bets placed, meetings arranged and deals sealed for the drop of a coin. Now you sit shoulder-to-shoulder on the endangered-species list with the cassette deck, phone book and road map. Once indispensable, now replaceable. Fate will soon lead your kind to a landfill.
Your passing will largely go unmourned, except by streetwalkers, drug dealers, heavy-breathers and anonymous tipsters, all of whom were drawn to your untraceable nature. The rest of us had trouble seeing past your coin-eating, germ-transmitting, frequently malfunctioning flaws. Although once upon a time it was tough to imagine life without you.
Those days came back to me last week, when a sudden flat tire stranded me downtown with a dead cellphone. I had dinner plans to delay. Hesitant to ask a stranger for his cell, I recalled that one of your kind once stood on a nearby street corner. To my relief, I discovered you were still there, at the intersection of Elmwood and Allen.
Your receiver was sticky with an unidentified substance and your face was scarred with graffiti. Nonetheless you accepted my 50 cents and put through a call. No hard feelings, no guilt trip. It was like stepping back into the past, a reminder of how useful and even necessary you had once been. Once.
I asked your neighbors about you.
“Hardly anyone uses that phone,” said Amber Reid, who works the counter at the restaurant across Allen Street. “Maybe a couple of times a day, that’s all.”
As I suspected. Time passes, marked not just on the calendar, but in objects that fade from familiar to forgotten, from useful to barely used. Everyone and everything has a shelf life. You were there when I needed you, and I appreciate that. I just don’t need you much anymore. Thanks for the memories. But I think it’s over between us.