Comebacks we'd like to see: #6 -- Phone booths

This post is part of our series ranking the top 25 bygone products and trends we'd like to see return.

I guess I should have known the end of the phone booth was coming when I first saw the movie Superman in 1978. Christopher Reeve, as Clark Kent, races to a phone booth to change into his costume when he realizes that he's staring at one of those new fangled public telephones -- without the booth.

Phone booths were great in their day, though. If you needed to make a phone call, and it was raining, for instance, you could jump in the booth and talk to your heart's content and your mouth grew weary -- or at least until you ran out of spare change. Then, of course, there was the simple idea of some privacy. You could talk inside a phone booth and its glass walls and not worry about anyone overhearing you -- except possibly the operator.

And, of course, Hollywood loved the phone booth. Two of my more vivid phone booth film memories, aside from Superman, is, of course, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure -- their time machine was disguised as a telephone booth -- and Cannonball Run. An uptight bureaucrat gets stuck in a phone booth when a car parks next to the door. And, now that I think about it, I think Jack Tripper got stuck in a phone booth in Three's Company. By the time Hollywood came out with Phone Booth in 2003, with Colin Farrell stuck in the thing and trying to survive a sniper attack -- it was a film that seemed kind of quaint. Not surprisingly, the film's screenplay had been written years ago -- I remember reading about the upcoming film somewhere in the mid-1990s.

But phone booths were prone to not just graffiti but vandalism -- a simple rock and glass was too irresistible to some people, apparently -- and it was just cheaper to maintain a phone without the booth.

So, yeah, phone booths are gone -- and even public phones without the booths are on their way out -- thanks to cell phones. But I kind of miss phone booths. Especially when I look at my cell phone bill.

Geoff Williams is a business journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).

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