Tuesday, September 12, 2017

hello, operator?

My pal Felipe in Pátzcuaro is amazed when fellow bloggers complain about not finding topics suitable for blogging. He claims that stories surround us in Mexico.

He is right. They even show up daily here in Oregon.

This morning I drove north to the Woodburn outlet mall to do a bit of shopping. I was looking for an unstructured black linen jacket. I may as well have been looking for a chimera.

Heading home, I saw a sign on one of the freeway exits just north of Salem. Chalet restaurant. I thought Chalet restaurants were as extinct as unstructured black linen jackets.

Chalet was once famed in Salem for its pies. The rest of the menu was ordinary. But the pies were outstanding. So, I veered across three lanes of traffic to whet this bit of aroused nostalgia.

The pie turned out to be a disappointment. I ordered marionberry. Several years ago, Chalet made their pies with whole marionberries. This pie was a second cousin to a Hostess fruit pie. The filling could just as easily have been jam.

But that was not the story I ran across. In the parking lot stands the skeleton of a long-gone era. A telephone booth.

Telephone booths once were the sole lifeline home when you were on the road. (There are still two near my rental in Villa Obregon; but I know of none in Barra de Navidad.) For a nickel, you could place a local call; long distance calls were priced by an actual operator who would assist you with the transaction.

It was a bit ironic that I captured this image of a telephone booth with the very technology that turned telephone booths into the equivalent of buggy whips and hoop skirts. My mobile telephone.

My smartphone does things my first desktop computer could only dream of. And it all fits in my pocket.

I have become so reliant on mine that I have trouble remembering how recent mobile telephones entered our lives. I had one in the late 1980s. It was home-based in my little red convertible. But the receiver could be removed from the car and attached to a battery pack the size of the life support units astronauts used walking on the moon. "Mobile" was more of an aspiration than a description.

The death of telephones created a crater in popular culture. What do we now cram people into to disparage their lack of political power? With the demise of beetles, what will frat boys stuff themselves into? And where will those bilingual young ladies advertising their availability for French lessons now let their skills be known?

I never was fond of telephone booths. Maybe that came from watching too many Alfred Hitchcock movies where the appearance of a telephone booth meant mayhem was afoot.

By coincidence, I ran into my friend Larry Odle in the restaurant. His son manages the place.

He agreed with me that it was odd that the telephone company did not scrap the booth. The telephone itself is long gone. He did say, though, that the box still serves a purpose. During inclement weather, the homeless use it as a shelter.

In a very sad way, that may be the justification for leaving it where it is. While the elements erode it, it will protect others from the elements.

And maybe that is nostalgia enough for its continued existence. Ironic existentialism -- at its best. 

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