The first phone booth on the New Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel stood shrine-like in the pale yellow street light. It was nearly 10 p.m. and tens of thousands of people had driven by it that day, none had stopped. When people used it, they were usually dealing drugs or victims of car failure. On this night there would be one caller, John.
He opened the door and waited for the urine smell to subside, then dropped in a quarter. He listened to the unanswered rings. He dialed again and was shocked by the busy signal. Was she on the phone? Was someone calling her at the same time?
She had warned him she “might not be around” this evening; still, he drove 30 miles to Manhattan and waited three hours outside her building, hoping to see her. Then he decided to drive back to Jersey. After he emerged from the tunnel, he spotted the phone booth—he would try one last time.
If she answered, he wouldn’t admit to waiting outside her building or that he was on the wrong side of the tunnel and would have to pay another toll to go back. No, he’d tell her he was calling to say “hi” –that he was nearby in the city.
A few minutes later he was roaring back through the tunnel.
The next morning before daybreak John slowed his car down as he approached the phone booth—he’d call simply to hear her voice, even though he had just left her. He squinted–the glare of the sunrise exposed the booth’s seediness. He checked the rear view mirror, then accelerated. He’d call later.
(This Slice happened before the use of cell phones.)