As I crouch on the radiator wallowing in snot and tears, I struggle to catch a few garbled words of consolation from my distant parents. It’s freshman year, and my mom’s voice is like a scratchy morse code buzzing in and out after crossing 1,900 miles from Washington state to little Hillsdale, Michigan – the one place in the US that isn’t covered by AT&T. The only spot in the whole of Olds Dormitory where I get any cell service is the window-walled entryway which overlooks Hillsdale Street. So my life is falling apart, and the whole world can witness it.
It’s a pathetic scene, and while it might seem a little overdrawn (come on kid, grab a tissue and take a nap), this scenario will be familiar to a lot of girls in Olds Dormitory where there are only two places to have a private, necessary phone conversation. Either you can have a muffled conversation in your dorm with a brand new roommate who kindly pretends not to hear you sniffling, or you can huddle on the entryway radiator. I opted for the latter and I was not the first to do so.
To promote the emotional wellness and privacy of the next freshman class, Hillsdale should install a payphone booth on the north side of the Olds entryway. The bench that occupies that plot of concrete now only serves as prime real estate for young kissing couples who have been kicked out of the lobby due to visiting hours ending. By installing a landline there, the college would not only provide for students who are unable to reach their families, but would discourage (or at least relocate) such uncomfortable public displays of affection.
A phone booth would provide an appropriately private space for emergency calls home. Make it a coin-op for economy’s sake (it’s not like the girls of Olds aren’t used to being charged $1.75 every time they do laundry, anyways). Charge a standard $0.50 fee for a half hour call. If roughly 80 girls live in Olds per semester, and if they each called home once a week for a 15 week semester, the payphone would gross approximately $600 by Christmas. Even after subtracting the cost of the phone booth itself (around $160), that’s at least enough to fund Olds’s massive holiday decorating projects.
Some might ask why students would want to pay to use a phone booth in the age of cellphones. Sadly, many students have a hard time finding service anywhere in Hillsdale, on or off campus. According to polls on CellReception.com, Hillsdale County gets an average rating of 2 out of 5 stars for cellular coverage. Let’s face it– we live in a cornfield in the middle of nowhere.
Willard Nichols, president of the American Public Communications Council, expressed the significance of payphones when he stated, “There’s no question that pay phones are critical when there is an emergency … We saw in Sandy the same as Katrina. There were still pay phones working in New Orleans during the height of the storm when all other communication was out.” College drama may not compare to an emergency situation of national impact, but in moments of real distress, the frustration of bad reception adds emotional strain to the situation that could be easily solved if students had the option of a landline.
In the end, it comes down to common courtesy. Dorm mates and passersby that I haven’t met don’t want to see mascara coursing down my cheeks, or to hear about my embarrassing grades in Bio. I don’t want to tell them. But without a designated place for private phone conversations, things get a little too personal.