Do you remember the good old days of the internet, when the most impressive thing you could see was some flashing text, or maybe an animated GIF?
(In fact its from “Frontier Technologies” that I get my nickname ‘Geofftech’, because my login with them was simply ‘geoff’, and their domain name was ‘ftech.net’. And my first personal webspace on the big internet had the address of ‘www.geoff.ftech.net’ – which kinda reads as ‘geofftech’ if you scan it quickly, see?)
Of course, for really fast internet access I used the connection of where I worked at the time, and the best bit about it them too was that I worked nightshifts meaning that come 3am in the morning when all your tasks were done, there was a lot of time for scanning the ‘net and seeing what was out there.
What was out there back then was one of the most popular ‘cult’ websites of the time – The Mojave Desert Phonebooth site, and there’s no way I can remember HOW I found it, maybe someone just sent it to me in an email, but I do remember being up late one night – well in the early hours of the morning – not really knowing where the Mojave Desert was (this was BEFORE Google Maps, people!) but reading with fascination about this phonebooth.
The short version goes something like this: A random dude sees a phonebooth marked on map in middle of the Mojave desert south of Las Vegas. He thinks “Why is is there, who uses it?” and looks up the number and calls it but gets no answer. He keep calling, and calling – every day, until one day he gets en engaged tone [busy signal] and this knows someone is there using it! He keeps hitting ‘redial’ until it rings, at which point someone picks up – and he finds himself having a random conversation with a local miner who works a few miles away and uses the phonebooth a couple of times a week.
So this guys makes a webpage – the sort you don’t see anymore – to 1997 standards where Flash and embedded video isn’t around yet, it’s a just a simple design (which I love) telling people about the phonebooth encouraging other people to call it. People do. And in fact they make ‘pilgrimage’ visits to it, and the phonebooth becomes a cult hit. One guy even goes there for 30 days after receiving ‘Message from God’ that it was his duty to go there and and answer calls.
Until … eventually … the Mojave National Preserve ask Pacific Bell (the phone company) to take it away because they are now fed up with the high quantities of people going out there to see it.
Even though it’s no longer there – I became one of those people who made the trek out to see it yesterday. That’s right – I drove out of my way to look at a concrete slab on the ground of where a phone booth used to be. Take away the phone? Not a deterrent.
You turn off the I-40 and go down a road, and then turn onto another ‘road’ which the GPS warns is unpaved. A few minutes later the gravel road turn to small rocks, and then large rocks, and then almost dissolved altogether and you have to put the car into a low gear to stop it from slipping.
There was ONE point on the way there where suddenly I thought “We’re in the middle of the desert. No one knows we’re here, what if we break down or get a flat tyre now?”, and with Paul chipping in with helpful comments such as “Well I’ve got a bin bag with me, at a push we could use that to make a still and get something drinkable out of that big bottle of screenwash that you’ve got”, it raised the level of nervous energy in the car.
We found the cinder mine – long abandoned by the looks of things – and then went down more impossible tiny dirt roads. Sand roads, actually the sort where I dropped the car into the lowest gear yet and prayed a little that we wouldn’t get stuck in the sand and we would end up having to push the car out of a rut.
The concrete base we found in the end at the GPS coordinates was there. The geocache that we were looking for was not. I took photos, Paul shot video. Nothing moved. Everything was still.
But then we were REALLY still, and in the far far distance we thought we could hear the slight rumble of traffic of the other interstate, the I-15 to the north side of the desert, which made us feel like if anything happened, we could wait until it cooled down in the evening and then make the several mile walk for help.
Paul (who had been calm until this point) then though got slightly worried about the droppings of some sort of animal nearby … and the empty shotgun shells/cases that he spotted on the ground. Who had been shooting? And at what?
We decided not to stick around to find out. We passed what looked like some containing area with swill pits for cattle. Fresh tyre tracks in the sand roads told us that we probably hadn’t been the the only people out there that day, and slowly … so slowly, crawling along at 10 mph, we skidding and swerved slightly following the sand ruts of previous vehicles through the barren desert, until we hit a gravel path … and then a more solid path, and finally a proper paved road which took us down to the interstate junction, life and a gas station with fuel for both us and the car.
And north – to Vegas, where things are anything but lifeless and barren.
Another quick & dirty video of me, in the middle of the desert …