Curiously enough, in the last day more people have inquired about my using a pay phone from the Grand Canyon to do a public radio interview than about the fate of Wikipedia.
The background: I got a call from LA’s public radio station KCRW on Thursday asking if I could participate in discussion about Wikipedia’s pending changes feature. This was while I was on a five day getaway, and just a few hours before driving into the cell phone blackout void known as northern Arizona. Everything from Fredonia (near the Utah border) down to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is pretty much a cell phone black hole for AT&T, and I suspect pretty much every carrier. Also, radio producers crave land lines for their reliability and general quality over mobiles.
Locals confirmed there was no telecom whatsoever (wired or wireless) between where I was at Jacob Lake (a small outpost/lodge) and the precious pay phones run by the National Park Service 44 miles away. I had to cover that distance in an hour, half of which I could go 70 mph, but the rest a curvy and hilly affair that featured deer and cow crossing warnings.
View Grand Canyon North in a larger map
Driving slightly on the edge of responsibility, I made that distance in roughly 50 minutes. We pulled into the parking lot of the Grand Lodge, grabbed any staff member I could find and asked if they had pay phones that could receive calls. They didn’t know, but pointed to a bank of phone booths.
It was 20 minutes to show time, and I didn’t know how I’d get on air.
AT&T, to their credit, had at the very least a weak circle of cell coverage around the lodge, but it would have been awful for radio broadcasting.
I went into the phone booth, noted the 928 area code number on the pay phone, dialed it from my cell phone and voila — it rang. I texted the number to the KCRW producer, and 15 minutes later, there was a ringback and I was on the radio show.
It worked. And after a spirited discussion on Wikipedia, I took twenty paces and had this beautiful view from the lodge.
Another twenty paces, and I had this panorama.
As I told Warren Olney on the show: “Never underestimate the value of a landline,” especially in Northern Arizona.