Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand


I like to check into motels and hotels–sometimes in my own city–to work on writings. I lock myself in and blaze through notebooks and legal pads, scribbling ideas as they flow out. I don’t even bring my laptop because it just becomes another distraction. If I have to research something, I’ll use my phone, but I keep it turned off inside a drawer the rest of the time.

San Jose. Los Angeles. Santa Fe. Chicago. Brooklyn. Portland. Baltimore. Omaha. Marfa.

I’ll go wherever there’s a story to be dug up and a writing desk to fuck up.

Motels can be used for many purposes besides sleep and I’ve seen it all: extramarital affairs; drug deals; drug binges; prostitution; investigative journalists interviewing confidential sources;  music composition (I once saw a guy move an old bulky piano into a room); temporary shelters for runaways kicked out by their parents; fugitives hiding from the police or feds.

I use shitty motels to write about these people. A+ for old inns that still have a working payphone. Why? Because it’s great for midnight confessional conversations with someone you love, loathe or both.

Texting, social media, emails and unlimited calls on your cellphone gives you too much freedom, too many blank spaces for “uhms” and awkward silences. A payphone forces you to get to the fucking point, to the heart of the matter, as the time and stack of quarters decrease.

Some of the most genuine conversations I’ve ever had only lasted under 10 minutes. There’s nothing quite like saying “I love you” or “I hate you” or “I miss you” or “I’m never coming back” while staring at the names of lovers long gone etched on the payphone booth, cigarette smoke swirling towards the star-flooded night sky, and one last quarter between your fingers.