Thursday, October 6

Goodbye to the booths



Since last January 1, operators no longer have the obligation to keep the phone booths in service that the law required in towns with more than 1,000 inhabitants. That simply means their disappearance because the few that remain are no longer profitable. Very few people use them and it is rare today to find one of those glass booths on the corners.

I belong to a generation that grew up queuing at the booths to call his girlfriend. I used one on Calle Corazón de María in Madrid in the mid-1970s. Sometimes there were half a dozen people waiting for their turn. It was necessary to be well provided with patience and five-peseta coins.

In the San Juan Evangelista, the university college, there were half a dozen telephones hanging on a wall in the lobby that worked with tokens. They cost two or three pesetas and were bought at the El Fenicio bar, where we spent the afternoons playing dominoes and auctioning.

The booths were the social networks of that time, a time when letters were also written. It is a pity not to have preserved those declarations of love that were almost as long and effusive as Hans Castorp’s to Madame Chauchat in ‘The Magic Mountain’.

Also the isolation of the cabins was conducive to those loving effusions in the distance. You had to make the most of the time because the device emitted a sound that made you understand that the conversation would come to an end if the hard times ran out.

On one occasion the door jammed and it took me ten minutes to get out of the enclosure. I had seen on television ‘La Cabin’, the Mercero and Garci drama, which was so successful in the early 70s. Fortunately, what happened to José Luis López Vázquez did not happen to me and I managed to escape the trap.

It was the Spain in which Celtas shorts were smoked, Veterano cognac and Mono anise were drank, television was black and white and Gento still wore the Madrid shirt. Franco jokes were told and the roads were filled with 600 yellows in summer.

The booths were more than an institution. They democratized communications and popularized the use of the telephone, which until the late 1960s was an object associated with high social status. Thanks to Telefónica’s invention, distances were shortened and the world became smaller.

The history of Spain for more than four decades could not be told without the cabins. More than one of them found a job or had their life changed thanks to this innovation that today may seem irrelevant but was as revolutionary as the birth of the mobile phone.

The disappearance of the cabins leaves us nostalgic who spent half our youth in those sentimental havens that made our hearts skip. What a shame and what sadness!

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