The beckoning of a pay phone ringing on a derelict downtown corner, in front of a seedy convenience store, or better yet, in the arid lobby of an office building, offers the thrill of random human contact, or at least the opportunity to generate good prank karma by helping the person on the other end play some sort of joke.
There is to be sure a cult of the pay phone, founded and nurtured at first by phone phreaks (like hackers only the jacking is done via touch-tone) who exchanged ideas in the magazine 2600 at first, on CompuServe BBSs, and later of course on the Internet. Kraftwerk wrote a song about making long-distance calls unpaid for by dollars or deutschemarks, and AT&T and BellSouth enthusiasts waxed pensive over COCOT (customer-owned coin-operated telephone) interlopers and the evils of ANI (automatic number identification). As pay phones become obsolete in the face of affordable, ubiquitous cellular service, nostalgists and even antique dealers have latched onto booths and wallmounts.
In Miami, though, quarter-feds never really went out of style. Drug deals, escort services, illicit gambling ventures, and certain complicated romantic arrangements have always needed them, and so do people phoning family members in Quito, Barranquilla, or Milan, who use prepaid phone cards because of their transcontinental functionality.
The Bitch has noticed banks of pay phones in surprising places; trendy bar/restaurant the District has a couple; there's an appropriately Eastern Bloc-looking kiosk in the North Beach block shared by Favela Chic and Ouzo's Greek restaurant. Theoretically, everyone in the world -- everyone with Internet access, anyway, is able to know about these phones, thanks to Jeff Foote's Website directory of more than 50,000 numbers.
Foote, who refers to himself as "El Jefe" on his site, is a technology hobbyist who started jotting down pay phone numbers as a teenager. In 1996 he posted his collection (which then numbered about 1000) on the Internet, and began seeking submissions to the site (www.payphone-directory.org) from all over.
The Bitch's submissions to the Website range from the lone booth at El Guajiro, a dive-y and strange little pool hall/cervezaria on NE Second Avenue, to more mundane contributions, such as the double-header at Milam's supermarket in Coconut Grove. Check out the site and submit your own listings.
Foote wouldn't talk to The Bitch (even by phone!) and in fact gives very few interviews; he told a Chicago paper on one of these rare instances that he wasn't "a very talkative person."
But The Bitch is -- talkative anyway, if not a person -- and she performed the following sociological study by calling the pay phone across the street from her office whenever somebody walked by it. Over the course of about ten days and approximately 50 attempted calls, respondents were few. Many passersby not only did not answer the phone, some didn't even look at it, as if a telephone suddenly squawking into life the second they walked by was the most normal thing in the world. Those who did answer proved to be fairly unaccomplished conversationalists, asking for money and when the next number 3 bus was coming by. The experiment ended when one man, dressed in a suit and clutching a Subway sandwich as if it were a fidgeting Pomeranian, snatched up the receiver and angrily demanded to speak with The Bitch's parents.
Bad Cop, Bad Judgment
It looks as if storied ethical reformer Jimmy Morales will do whatever it takes to become county mayor on November 2 -- even enlist the services of a former Miami-Dade cop with a notorious past. This past week the Morales campaign, in preparation for the runoff against frontrunner and former county police director Carlos Alvarez, announced the hiring of four local veteran political operatives: Fred Balsera, Al Lorenzo, Nick Inamdar, and Dante Starks.
Starks, an aide to Miami-Dade County Commissioner Dorrin Rolle, was booted from the Miami-Dade Police Department in 1997 after being investigated in a case involving the rape of a South Florida woman the year before. The inquiry was dropped when the accuser failed a polygraph test. Starks admitted he had sex with the woman while he was on duty as an officer; this was the official reason he was fired. During his career, according to public records, the department found that he exhibited "hostile and offensive behavior" toward five female officers (see "Dante's Inferno," New Times, April 13, 1995). In 1999 Starks was hired by Rolle, where he makes $50,000 a year as a commission aide.
As Rolle's aide, Starks was a central figure in a 2002 County Ethics Commission investigation in which charges were leveled that Rolle had exploited his official position by getting the county to pay for more than $20,000 in police expenses for the Bob Marley Caribbean Festival that would otherwise have been paid by the James E. Scott Community Association, where Rolle earns $130,000 a year as president and CEO. According to the accounts of several county and city bureaucrats involved in the situation, Starks orchestrated much of the county's largesse for the benefit of JESCA.
Starks is currently on leave from his county job to work with Morales, who could not be reached for comment.
Derrick Newton, Morales' campaign manager, says he was not aware of Starks's past. Newton also accused New Times of attacking the Morales camp. "I don't understand where you're going with all of this," Newton huffed. "We are very happy with the field work Dante is providing the campaign."
No Thermometers Left Behind
The Bush administration's record has been toxic, literally. Abstractions like air and water and plants and animals just aren't up there on the priority list. One sign of W's disregard for ecological health is his administration's systematic efforts to weaken regulations that would reduce mercury emissions from power plants.
Florida is one of four states that have issued warnings about mercury consumption in fresh and coastal waters (The Bitch is always depressed by the signs in the middle of Everglades National Park warning pregnant women not to eat too many fish); just this month the Environmental Protection Agency released a report indicating a rise in the spread of mercury contamination in the piscatorial population.
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This is causing the enviro-activists at Greenpeace to tear their hair out. And they want some of yours as well. Greenpeace is sponsoring a nationwide drive to collect hair samples and send them to a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill lab to test the strands for their mercury levels. Volunteers such as Ranaan Sela surrendered a few follicles for the cause at the Tree of Zion vegetarian restaurant this past week, and Greenpeacers were clipping away on Lincoln Road over the weekend. The results will eventually comprise the largest mercury test in the U.S. Greenpeace hopes to have the results ready to use as election ammo before November.
Privacy-seeking citizens can buy a low-tech test kit for $25 at www.greenpeaceusa.org/mercury. The price includes postage to send your hair to the lab; results will be returned in about three weeks.
Havana at Bay
As Cuba prepared for Ivan, its hundredth hurricane of the season, one of The Bitch's amigas on the isle of rum-soaked socialism sent condolences about Frances: "I've seen the news and what an ugly thing, for sure. Here we're getting ready for the visit of another hurricane. I won't tell you about our prehurricane measures because they are very special. For example, cooking all of the soy picadillo and eating it before the hurricane even arrives. Sealing windows with tape improperly removed (the word "stolen" sounds too strong) from government offices, because it is rarely sold in stores, much less during hurricane season. And you can imagine that candles are nowhere to be found, not even in spiritual centers. The last hurricane (Charley) apparently knew what the most important economic targets of the country were and didn't damage them. In Miramar, we were without electric fuel for a week, but at the beaches in the eastern region, a total tourist zone, everything was reestablished the next day. The whims of Mother Nature. We're praying for the wind to blow in our favor."