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Payphones still have something smartphone users want

August 13, 2016
My assistant the Green Guy shows the electrical wiring of a payphone, exposed by vandals.

The Green Guy shows the electrical wiring of a payphone, exposed by vandals.

Overnight apparently, a crack team of…well, crackheads possibly, assailed one of the last payphones in the Fairview neighbourhood and put it out of commission—for, like, the 8,oooth time.

In the course of the vandalism, the pedestal base of the payphone was targeted and the front facing sheet of aluminum, held on by four tiny bolts, was ripped free at three points. This exposed some of the phone’s highly-sophisticated 1970s-era electrical system and further revealed a hidden secret that some people, at least, might get a charge out of knowing about.

An unlikely place to charge your phone

The standard three-prong electrical outlet in the base of the payphone.

The pedestal base of the payphone includes a standard three-prong electrical outlet.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the wiring that supplies power to the antiquated payphone is that it includes a standard three-prong 15-amp duplex electrical receptacle—the kind found in any building.

It was wrong of someone to damage the payphone kiosk in the first place and it would be wronger still to “steal” electricity from the phone company.

So I didn’t stop and test the exposed electrical outlet but I have no doubt that it will be live as long as the payphone is receiving power.

My understanding is that every other payphone kiosk of this style will be identically so-equipped—with one electrical outlet in the pedestal base and another outlet hidden inside the illuminated top of the aluminum hood.

It is mildly ironic to note that as homeless people and non-homeless people alike are constantly scrambling to find public outlets to charge their smartphones—the homeless out of last resort and the non-homeless so they can keep checking their Facebook status and playing Pokémon Go—that these payphones—made obsolete by smartphones—secretly have the one thing that all smartphone users want, namely publicly-accessible charge points.

In any event, it’s not much good knowing this now, given there are only, what—ten payphones left in all of Vancouver?

Make that nine payphones

An empty concrete pad is all that remains of the West Broadway and Hemlock payphone kiosk.

The blank spot where the West Broadway and Hemlock payphone kiosk stood.

Update: The oft-abused payphone kiosk that stood reliably in front of the Mac’s convenience store on the southwest corner of West Broadway Avenue Hemlock Street for nigh on a quarter century is gone. It was removed—probably for good—on the afternoon of Thursday, August 18th. It is unclear just how much it will be missed.

One of my homeless friends, who watched the removal, made a point of asking if they could have the payphone’s handset (as a sort of momento mori, I guess) but to no avail. Click the images to enlarge them.

  1. Rodney Clarke permalink

    For the longest time there was a bank of six pay phones housed in front of Shopper’s Drug Mart on the north side of Davie at Thurlow. An unheard of congregation by today’s standards. They were just recently decommissioned.

    I spotted one on Alma around 6th or 7th about a month ago, I wonder if has darted into the woods yet…

    Remember “2600” – the zine for phone phreaks? They were ahead of the curve when it came to photographing the pay phone in it’s declining natural habitat.

    Thanks for another refreshing post


    • Thanks. I used to read 2600 cover to cover, though I haven’t picked it up for at least a year. Happily, as you point out, it’s still published and available to read online. It was an especial treat (and a nod to their telephone heritage) that they included (hopefully still do) full colour back cover photos of unique payphones from around the world.


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