[ continued from part 1 ]
My second trip to the Mojave Phonebooth was a few years later when I was leading a photography trip for some fellow photography geeks with the local Sierra Club chapter. My trips are often a little offbeat, particularly for people wanting to pad their portfolios with more photos of rocks and sunsets. (Don’t get me wrong–I still have a weakness for “nature photography” or whatever you call this West Coast, Weston- and Adams- and Porter-influenced way of seeing the world.) The people on this trip were a tad puzzled by my insisting that we visit this phonebooth in the middle of Cima Dome, but I promised them it’d be an interesting detour.
By this point the phonebooth had acquired an international following. I won’t repeat all the details, but through the efforts of a certain Godfrey Daniels, who called and called the phone until he got through to a human being, who logged all his attempts, and who detailed his craziness on the web, the phonebooth began to get a certain reputation for weirdness. People from all over started to make calls to this lost phonebooth, and people would go there to answer them. And then Europe found out. What better thing to represent a romantic European notion of the American West than a lone phonebooth, miles from anything, set in the middle of the desert with j-trees all around it?
My group finally made it there, but we weren’t the only ones that day. A DJ from a Florida radio station was there in a low, battered sedan with “Mojave Phonebooth or bust” signs all over it. He’d been camping out there, taking calls from listeners, and he was looking a little battered himself. In a more deluxe rented SUV was another group of people which consisted of a German film crew and an opera singer. Apparently the opera singer had made a certain reputation for himself by singing arias while standing in the phone booth. Maybe while waiting for La Scala to call him.
We weren’t there long before the phone rang and continued to ring. People from Texas, Florida, Italy, Germany, all over. We didn’t hear the opera singer sing, though the crew got some shots of him standing at the phone, answering a call. Then the film crew turned their attention to my group. Richard got some questions, then someone else, then me. What was I doing here? How did I hear about the phonebooth? Who was in my group? I had no idea if these people were the equivalent of the major American networks, some little cable outfit, or some precursor to Youtube. But what the hell, I’ve been on European television!
The phone booth that day:
Nicole, one of my group, taking a call–in French–from someone in Europe:
Postscript: All this was in the late 1990s, after the Mojave National Preserve came into being officially. The thought of having something so antithetical the mission of a natural preserve rubbed the National Park Service the wrong way, and with the collusion of SBC Pacific Bell (now AT&T) the phone was removed and the phone number ((619) 733-9969) retired forever. While the Mojave Phonebooth was definitely an unnatural feature in the landscape, it was no worse than golf courses in Yosemite or mega-lodges in Yellowstone. But through their greater wisdom the NPS saw it fit to kill off this piece of wacked Americana. So that’s one less thing out in the wilds to makes roaming the deserts such an interesting thing to do.
The Park Service’s action hasn’t ended the weird romance of the phonebooth, however. A film produced in 2006, Mojave Phone Booth, played the festival circuit in 2006 and 2007 and gathered a number of awards.