Longing for a taste of the Big Easy? Call 504 947-9108 and chat with someone letting “les bons temps roulez” on New Orleans’ Royal Street. Try dialing 390 (66982) 69-88-35-11, and you may reach someone in the basement of the Vatican. You could also try 801 359-7423 and speak to someone just outside the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Jail. That is, if anyone answers.
Those phone numbers came from the Payphone Project (www.payphone-project.com), a website that catalogs pay phone numbers from around the world. You can reach out and touch people passing by any number of interesting phone booths, from the two Telecom New Zealand telephones in Antarctica’s McMurdo Station to the pay phone at the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Mark A. Thomas started the Payphone Project on a whim in 1995. He first collected numbers from friends and then from visitors to the site. He has now amassed a database with thousands of pay phone numbers. “By listing pay phone numbers, I invited people to pick up the phone and call to see who answered and maybe have a laugh,” says Thomas, a classical pianist living in New York City.
Thomas first realized how popular his site had become while walking through Queens. “I answered a ringing pay phone at the 36th Ave. subway station in Astoria, and the caller said he found the number for that phone at the website,” Thomas recalls. “I didn’t tell him it was my website, though. I didn’t think he’d believe me.”