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182. The Mojave Desert Phone Booth

02 Sep

At the intersection of two dirt roads in the Mojave Desert and 15 miles from the road in the middle of nowhere existed the Mojave telephone booth. From the 1960’s it existed to service remote miners working nearby in all of its hand-cranked glory. In the 1970’s it was upgraded to a touch-tone and then it was left. The miners then left and many mines abandoned. The telephone booth held its position but became ever more infrequently used, on the edge of nowhere. At some point it was shot. After being shot it became rather more interesting.

So it sat there with its broken light by the crossing of two trails of dirt, until it was discovered again. In 1997 when it received a little visit. Anonymous Los Angeles man ‘Mr. N’ was just looking at a map of the nearby area when he discovered a peculiarity — a dot. Beside said dot sat the word, ‘telephone.’ Mr N heard the call and set off, in his Jeep, in pursuit and in a pair of fine pair of Wingtip shoes. After many hours he did find it, and a surprise. He returned home satisfied and wrote a letter to a small, underground magazine which described his findings. Contained were the words ‘it works’ and the number so that anyone curious could call the desert. (760) 733-9969. Despite the chances, the phone company had been remarkably charitable and had let the phone stay connected for an extremely small number of people. Soon the number was to increase.

On the 26th of May Godfrey Daniels read the letter and became mildly obsessed. Calling it every day, leaving notes around the house, ‘Did you remember to call the Mojave Desert today?’ says the one affixed to his mirror. Each call was taped, while it rang he would automatically dictate the time, date and purpose of the call. Every visitor to his house was coerced into also calling the number. He was by his own admission ‘prepared to call for years’. Fortunately for his phone bill and confused house guests he succeeded in contact within a month.

20th June 1997 a busy tone came over the line. He assumed he had put in the wrong number. He tried again, and again until after three minutes he heard the familiar ringing tone, then a voice. Next came a flurry of questions for the person on the other end, someone in short supply for the booth, a local. He burst forth with a flurry of questions, he learnt that the woman on the other end was Lorene Aiken. Over the constant clicking on the line he learnt that she lived out in the desert and mined volcanic cinder to make into cinder blocks. Also that she hated Vegas. Eventually it ended with a last remark from Godfrey: “If the phone’s ever ringing again, pick it up. It’ll be me.”

“I’ll do that.” Lorene responded.

The conversation ended and Godfrey considered things. He decided that he would continue calling the Mojave Desert, he also decided that on his way to Burning Man ’97 he would take a slight detour and visit this object of such fascination. He then spread the word, setting up the first website about the Mojave telephone booth and uploading his story to the internet. A key point which would eventually lead to the demise of his precious booth.

Then as dark fell on the 27th August 1997 he found a line of telephone poles. He then found where they ended, at a telephone booth, THE telephone booth. As he set eyes upon it he was overcome with the the feeling that he ‘might never leave it.’ To punctuate the drama of the discovery the clouded sky let loose its rain onto Godfrey’s small trio; himself, his friend Mark and their marble bust of 19th Century German composer Richard Wagner. Two of the three took it in turns to make their calls to every conceivable person, then they moved on. Burning Man awaited. On the way back he attempted to beautify the battered booth with some remainder of Burning Man, glow-in-the-dark paint. Then he left with a bucket full of the shattered glass. At this point the booth was soon to experience an unexpected resurgence in popularity.

From relative obscurity the phone booth and Godfrey himself then became minor celebrities. Knowledge of the phone booth became more widely spread. In 1998 Godfrey returned with only Wagner to accompany him, they were going to take calls from people. Upon arrival he found another curious personality, receiving calls from people expecting to talk to him. The two immediately struck up a rapport and between them answered 171 calls from interested individuals. The pair (and marble bust of Richard Wagner) then set to work, cleaning out the booth before spelling the word ‘PHONE’ out on the ground in 15 foot letters of quartz. Other phone devotees then appeared, having read of the arrangement in the LA Times. Together they experienced the joys of the booth and the surprise of a freak blizzard in the Mojave Desert.

After this gathering more individuals came to receive the calls. One odd character found there claimed, when asked, that he had been asked by the Holy Spirit to go there. He had been there for 32 days and answered 500 phone calls including multiple ones from someone claiming to be from the Pentagon saying the phone booth was a military installation. The news travelled around the world; the phone never stopped ringing. A housewife in New Zealand, a bored German Teenager and a proud skunk owner were among the people to whom the news spread. The booth was even discussed by the New York Times and was featured on the television networks NBC and CNN.

Then there were complaints, and a backlash. The booth was attracting too many visitors and this led to an apparent detrimental effect on the environment. Many devotees suggested ulterior motives were at work but speculation did not halt the system. On the 17th of May 2000 the phone booth was removed and destroyed. Leaving only a few concrete blocks in its place. No evidence of its existence remained beyond a colourful tombstone which was placed there in its memory.

The headstone was soon removed from the site. The phenomenon stopped there, dead in its tracks. People begrudgingly resumed their lives. The Mojave Desert Telephone Booth is gone now, after its removal it was destroyed and its number permanently decommissioned. Ring it and there is no answer, this time however, there never will be a voice on the other end.

Further Reading:

 
3 Comments

Posted by on September 2, 2011 in Articles

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

3 responses to “182. The Mojave Desert Phone Booth

  1. dano

    February 5, 2014 at 13:56

    I used to traipse out there in the 80’s, sad to hear its gone

     
  2. MattXVX

    January 22, 2014 at 01:27

    THE PHONE NUMBER IS BACK!!

     
  3. Abbs

    July 8, 2012 at 10:33

    I loved this phone. I called once and someone answered who was camping out there with some family and friends just to see who would call the phone. I miss it. :( It was a cool little thing. ♥

     

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