On 26 May 1997 I went to see Tacoma band Girl Trouble at a club near where I live. I used to swap zines with Girl Trouble's drummer Bon von Wheelie, who puts out Wig Out!, the band's zine. I had tried to see Girl Trouble five or six years ago at a crappy club where I waited through three bands only to find out this "Girl Trouble" was some lousy geriatric heavy metal band that stole the name! Anyway, it was fun to meet the real Girl Trouble finally. ("I wondered whatever happened to you!" said Bon. All I could say in my defense was that I went electronic....)
Anyway, Bon had the latest issue of Wig Out! with her, & the first thing to catch my eye when I got home was a letter to the editor from a certain Mr. N. (sic?) from California, who wrote:
Dear Wig Out!,
I began calling every day, taping each call. As the line rang, I would state the date & time of the call. Anyone who visited my house since then has been required to call, identifying herself/himself on the tape, saying the date, time, & anything else that occurred to them. I stuck a Post-It® note to my bathroom mirror as a daily reminder: "Did you remember to call the Mojave Desert today?" So far I had half an hour's worth of tape of a ringing line accompanied by miscellaneous/extraneous comments of visitors. (E.g.: "It's May the 31st in the middle of nowhere. This is Coppe ringing! So you better pick it up!" Then: "Water ... waaaaater ....")
The equation, as I figured it, went something like: enough calls + enough time = someday + someone + answer.
I was prepared to call for years.
Then, on June 20th--less than a month after I started calling--at approximately ten in the morning, I heard...a busy signal!
"No WAY!" I shouted. I thought I must have dialed incorrectly. I dialed again. Right number, still busy! Either there was something wrong with the line--which I thought most likely--or there was a real human being talking on the phone in the middle of the Mojave Desert! I kept pushing the Redial button until, about three minutes later, the line started ringing. Then I heard an actual, human voice. In my excitement, I managed to yank the microphone plug out of the recorder, so that's why her responses don't appear in the first part of the transcript.
D.o.C.: Hello?!? Uh...are you in the Mojave Desert? You are? I'm sorry [couldn't hear well at first]...you are in the Mojave Desert, right? Okay, this is going to sound like a strange question. I've been calling this number every day for a while, just to see if anybody would ever answer it, and so I have to ask you: Why are you in the middle of the Mojave Desert? Oh! You live out there, and you don't have a phone. Oh...'cos this is about, what? Fifteen miles off the Interstate? Wow! So you live out there. How do you like living out there? [She says she loves it.] I've always wanted to live in the middle of the ... well, I live in Arizona. I'm calling from Phoenix. But I used to live out in the middle of the desert. Well, I'm glad you did, because, seriously, I've been calling this number every day for about a month. Somebody gave me this number in the middle of nowhere, so I've been...there's a what? [I finally manage to plug in the damn phone mike]
Mojave Lady: There's a cattle guard.
How long have you lived in the Mojave Desert?
Well--on and off--all my life.
So what do you do out there?
What kind of mining?
Cinders. Volcanic cinders.
What do you do with volcanic cinders?
They make cinder block with 'em.
And they use 'em for landscaping, or road control, [inaudible] control.
I didn't realize they used real cinder for cinder block. I thought they just made it out of cement.
Nooo. It's real cinders. It's a lightweight aggregate.
Wow. And you've lived out there all your life.
No. No, no, no, no.
No. I've lived in the city, too, but I've lived out here on and off all my life.
You like it better out there, huh?
Wow! That's just so cool that somebody finally answered! I think that's so COOL! Seriously, I'm going to come visit that phone booth someday.
Yeah, you ought to!
Yeah, I'm going to come out there and I'm going to write on the phone booth; I'm gonna say--
It's right in the middle of the east Mojave National Preserve.
Now what would be the nearest town?
The nearest town of any size?
Well, any town that would have a gas station, for example.
At the turn-off. At Cima Road.
Is that off of I-10?
I-15. Yeah, it's on the way to, you know, between Baker and Vegas.
So how often do you come and make phone calls?
Uh...it depends on...who I need to call.
I mean, is it once a month, or...
Well, when we're hauling water we stop and make calls so I can get messages.
Wow, you gotta haul water and everything!
So where you live there's just no services.
Right. We're twelve-and-a-half miles off the freeway.
Do you use generators for electricity?
That's so COOL!
Yeah, I know.
But it's like a regular house & stuff.
Wow! So you have to be real careful how much electricity you use, how much water you use--
Well...yeah. Probably moreso than most.
Wow. Do you even have neighbors?
Uh...we have a couple that live out here and help us with the mine that have, uh, mobile outfits.
You just like being alone.
That's so COOL!
Forever, and not see other people or other buildings or other traffic.
Ohhhh you don't know how appealing that sounds right about now.
And we're about 4500 feet, so it's considerably cooler than Phoenix.
Is that right? What's the temperature right now?
Oh, it's probably in the seventies.
Are you serious?
It's a little breezy, so it's cooler now, but we don't get over a hundred very often. Baker does, but we don't.
It's about a hundred and five here. Right now! [This was in the morning.]
Right, well we're supposed to get to that in Vegas today, but we won't get that hot.
So the nearest big city would be Vegas.
Right, we're about seventy-five miles from there.
Do you go to Vegas much?
More often than I like. I just went yesterday.
Is that where you go when you have to do a lot of shopping?
When we have to get parts, & shopping, & mail. We have to go fifty miles to get our mail.
Wow, how often do you do that?
Oh, probably once a week or so.
When you do grocery shopping, do you shop for like a month's worth?
No, 'cos somebody's usually going in at least once a week.
So you go to Vegas to do that?
Uh-huh. Or we have a place over by [Ridge Crest?]. We go over there.
I hope you don't mind my asking all these questions.
Nah, that's okay!
I'm just really fascinated, and when I got the busy signal I went, Wow! Somebody's there! So I just kept hitting Redial, Redial, Redial. Then I got the ring and I went, Yes!
I thought, I gotta answer it, I mean, nobody calls out here.
So the phone booth...is it just sitting by the road?
Uh, yeah, by the dirt road, going over to the other mine.
So there's a dirt road and then there's just a phone booth sitting there.
Do you know why it's there?
Well...because it's the only communications we have out here.
Someone said it's been there so long it might have been military.
Nah. It's been shot up, there's no windows left in it. Originally it was quite a ways from here, it was about three dozen miles from here when my father and mother were out here mining the mine.
Wow, your parents are from there, too!
Well, they've had the mine since 1948. And we had the phone booth down where the road splits off [unintelligible]. And my dad had to pay the phone bill on it, and people kept stealing money out of it, so he had to-- [Unintelligible because the strange clicking noise that's been going during the whole call suddenly got louder. I hate the FBI. (JUST KIDDING!)]
Are you hearing that weird noise?
Does it always do that?
Yeah, on and off, yeah.
I hope that's not a Geiger counter.
That would be bad!
No, it's just something in this phone line. It's a long, long, long telephone line.
I always figured that if someone ever picked up--I mean, I figured I'd be calling this number for years--and I thought if someone picked up it'd be someone broke down or something.
No, I'm just making my phone calls.
My name's Godfrey, by the way. What's yours?
Mine is Lorene.
Lorene, it's nice to meet you!
If the phone's ever ringing again, pick it up. It'll be me.
I'll do that.
After I hung up I thought of so many more things I'd like to ask. I decided to keep calling. Maybe Lorene would answer again sometime; maybe someone else would pick up. Maybe I would enter local lore as "That Guy Who Calls the Old Phone Booth for No Reason." Maybe when I showed up to visit The Phone (on the way to Burning Man '97), they would throw me a party. Maybe they would throw me a necktie party. One thing I knew: I would inscribe my name on the booth along with a message: If you hear this phone ringing, pick it up: it's me!