When a New Bedford Payphone Could’ve Been Deadly
Phone booths may be fossilized in 2022, but I remember the great usefulness of the coin-fed booth with its pull-shut door, complete with a light that would go on when you shut it.
This was before the period when we are compelled to get an earful of someone's full-throated conversation at the table next to us. Let's just say that phone booths were those stationary monotaskers before our smartphones took over our lives.
Recently, I was reading about a nostalgic public pay phone promoted as Times Square's sole remaining "horse and buggy" in an era when I feel local and long-distance phone calls meant something.
Instantly, my memory envisioned the infamous red-bottomed phone booth standing outside of my family's Shawmut Diner, at the corner of Shawmut Avenue and Hathaway Road in New Bedford.
The Paleologos family, crammed in "mom's limousine," was returning from an exhausting, two-day Toys for Tots Telethon. When we turned onto Exit 3 for Hathaway Road, we knew something was very wrong. Everywhere, there were flashing red and blue lights reflecting off the night sky, and they were coming from the diner. There are no words to recount our collective fear and trauma.
The police had cordoned off the entire area, as crowds had formed and we were frantic to get some explanation of what was going on.
The police told us that someone reported seeing "a homemade bomb" with wires and batteries inside the phone booth. A bomb? A hundred and one thoughts ran through my mind. Could it have been directed toward us? Could it have been a troubled or distraught customer or vendor? It's impossible to describe what happens to your mind and body during a hell-on-earth moment like this.
The abridged version of this incredible story ended with the Massachusetts State Police signaling everything was safe and sound and free from danger.
My thoughts were far removed from a nostalgic, romantic phone booth scene, like with Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason at the end of The Goodbye Girl. For me, I'll remember the pay phone like saying hello and goodbye to a bygone time.