Pay Phone Pranks

Back when pay phones could accept calls

A long time ago, in a job far away, Canada phone booths used to ACCEPT phone calls.  You could dial them, and they’d ring.  To be honest, I have no idea why Bell Canada stopped this practice.  You’d think they’d be happy to have a use for pay phones in the middle of a time where less and less people use pay phones instead of their personal cell phones.

So, back in the late 90’s I used to work retail in a store that had a big huge window, and a perfect view of a payphone across the street.  These are some of the stories my friend Rick and I used to amuse ourselves when we were supposed to be working.

Checking up on BellOne day, I happened to notice the pay phone maintenance lady at the corner Donut shop before work.  A half hour later, she was making her rounds, and approached our little pay phone.  Her job was to empty the phone and take the quarters.  We rang the phone, and pretended to be the Bell head office.  We made the comment that we were just checking up on her route, and she was behind schedule.  She immediately knew it was a prank, but we chatted for a bit anyway, teasing her that if she hadn’t stopped for donuts’ she’d be answering the pay phone down the street by now.  He had her convinced that we’d been trying all the pay phones till she answered.  She didn’t know where we were.The next week, we chatted again, and again the following week.  We didn’t catch her every week because I actually did have some work to do occasionally, but we started a good friendship over the years.  It was her that told us the sad news one day that Bell was disabling all their phones from accepting calls. I always kind of wondered if it was because of us.
The ANTI-Gag.Some of the pranks we pulled needed good timing.  Sometimes we’d get lucky.  One day, Rick was going to the store to buy some munchies.  On his way back, I’d planned to make the phone ring if there was anybody around.  As timing worked for us, there was somebody nearby and I made it ring.  They ignored it because they were not actually standing at the phone, but only nearby.  Rick goes into the booth and answers.  He nods and then says’ NEBRASKA”.  Then, he reacts like crazy  – as if he’s won some amazing prize, screaming Whoo! Whoo! etc.  He then hangs up and goes about his day.  While this may not constitute a phone booth prank in the traditional sense, we know there are two by-standers with a cool story to tell, and probably some regret that they didn’t answer that phone.
Hide it in the trunkAn old lady approached the phone as it started ringing.  As she answered, we spoke in a muffled voice.  “Just put the money in the trunk of that green car right there, and you’ll get your daughter back”  She hung up.  In hindsight, this was probably not a funny prank.

You win… No, really.This was one of my favourite pranks.  We called the phone booth as a young kid was biking by the booth.  HE stopped and looked around for a bit, but then decided to answer.  In a typical stereotype AM radio voice, we convinced him that he’d won our “call a pay phone” contest.  He seemed very excited.  We convinced the boy that his prize was a $35 spending spree at the YON VARIETY store just behind the pay phone.  We instructed him to go in the store, and tell the counter clerk he was the winner.  He hung up and went running into the store.  Moments later he exited the store, looking rather depressed.  The joke was funny, but we decided to up the humour another notch.  We ring the phone again.The kid bolts for the phone with newly renewed excitement.  He answers and complains that the staff had no idea what we were talking about.  At this moment, but total coincidence, our store manager was exiting the store with some ice cream or other junk food snacks.  We instruct the boy that we didn’t mean the STORE staff knew about the prize.  It was the radio station staff.  That guy right there, wearing the pink shirt and tie was our radio guy.  He has your prize, but you have to convince him.  He  may resist.

What followed started up laughing so hard we couldn’t re-call the booth.  It was far across the street, so we couldn’t hear what was going on, but we could see the arms waiving.  He fell to the floor laughing.  When our manager returned, he wasn’t impressed… at least not at first, but then he started giggling too.  He didn’t punish us.

What temperature is it?We called some catholic school girls in uniform as they passed the booth.  We instructed them that we knew it was this payphone.  We were located three blocks North, but we knew this booth was under a billboard that flashed the time and temperature every 20 seconds.  “Could you please tell us what the temperature is?  We need to know”.  The girls left the booth and walked out in the parking lot till they could see the billboard, then returned with the value.  Sounding disappointed, we got them to go out a second time because we wanted Celsius temperature, not Fahrenheit.  We then asked to speak with the other girl, and they switched… then suspiciously started asking how we knew there were two of them.  Not wanting to blow our location cover, we made something up that was stupid, but they bought it.  When we started complimenting them on their clothes, they knew it was a prank and started giving the finger randomly in the air, hoping wherever we were, we’d see it.

Don’t answer!One of my favourites.  The phone booth prank that didn’t work out, but ended up being the funniest one ever.  The guy just WOULD NOT answer the phone.  We rang the phone as this young man was about to make a call.  He just stood there, refusing to pick up the receiver.  Luckily, the phone kept ringing without a time-out.  He walked around, attempting ton out-wait the phone.After a few moments, he walked into the variety store… apparently asking if he could use their phone.  They refused.  We could even see the clerk in the store pointing to the pay phone.  As he walked out, we re-dialed the phone and made it ring again.  As he’d walk away, we’d stop the ring and re-dial as he neared the phone again.

With this prank we got lucky with our timing.  We’d re-rung the phone three times, and were done.  As he walked away a final time, another lady from a different direction approached the phone.  We let her make a call.  The guy runs back and waits beside the booth.  The lady talked for a while, so he walked away. 

The funniest part is what happened next.  For some reason, this guy really wanted to use the phone, but he wouldn’t pick it up while it was ringing, and since we made it ring every time he approached the booth, he gut frustrated.  We watched him walk to the stop light and thought; “Oh no!  He’s coming HERE”.  Sure enough, even though we were not the closest store, he walked right up to our store and entered.  Rick, my college and partner in prank couldn’t hold it in, he had to leave.  He walks up to me, and says; “Can I use your phone?” 

Naturally you know my answer; “There is a payphone across the street”.  Rick’s laughter can be heard from the back.  I honestly don’t have a memory of what happened next.  The funny part was over.  I don’t r3emember if we let him use our phone or not, but I never found out what his fear of answering was.