It is hard to imagine a world today without our cellphones. For many of us, they have become a permanent attachment to our hand or hip.
Does anyone memorize phone numbers anymore? I know I don’t, but I can remember phone numbers to places where I lived more than 20 years ago yet I can’t remember my own children’s cell numbers.
During one summer when I was in college, I got a job with New York Telephone, after the monopoly break-up but prior to the industry proliferation of wireless devices in the marketplace.
How did we communicate when on the streets back in the pre-historic, pre-cellular days?
Pay phones were the way of the world. They were prominently positioned on the streets, at airports, bus stations, businesses and gas stations.
Today’s generation wouldn’t recognize a phone booth or understand having to dig change out of their pockets to call their BFF.
That summer I worked in a warehouse on the west side of Manhattan counting coins collected from all of the pay phones from the Bronx and Manhattan.
Each week this facility filled up a room with bags of nickels, dimes and quarters totaling over $100,000 — not a bad take but I’m sure nothing compared to how much the cellphone industry rakes in today.
The counting room had a security guard who ran a metal detector over you when you left the room, so all your own coins, keys, and any metal objects needed to stay outside in your locker.
Cameras were also placed throughout the facility and at each counting station.
I was told that some employees in the past had developed a system of dropping coins down into their boots while they were counting, thus prompting the video surveillance.
I noticed that security rarely wanded you all the way down to your shoes.
On my first day, I was trained by a man who on one hand had a thumb and no other full fingers. He was the fastest counter in the place.
The counting machines were along a complex conveyor belt where the upper level brought you full banks of coins to be counted, and the lower level belt took away the full bags of counted coins.
The counting machines were pretty cool.
Each pay phone bank had a tag with info that you entered into a computer, and then you dumped out the change into a large tray and sifted through it to remove foreign coins and slugs.
Next, you lifted the tray and dumped the coins into the machine, which had a large spinning platter that pushed all the coins to the edge where they were lifted off the tray according to thickness and flew through an electric eye that counted them and off they went into a bag.
When a bag was full, the machine beeped and you would tie it up and throw it on the conveyor belt.
Attach a new bag and the counting continued.
That’s how the day went: pretty repetitive and mindless.
The place had a Musak system that we would commandeer and play our own mix tapes, yes tapes. So we would boogie to counting thousands of coins.
I remember that one of the favorite tunes that summer was the theme from “Beverly Hills Cop.”
One afternoon everyone was leisurely counting and we saw some people leaving early! We found out later that they had counted a certain number of banks and were allowed to go home. Damn!
The next day, we were all flying through the counting, knocking out those banks in record time and yeah, I got to go home early but this only lasted a week.
All the regular employees were brought into the boss’ office one at a time and got chewed out for not counting fast enough and the going home early thing was only to get production up.
Now that the coin counting was going great, us summer guys were expendable and we were transferred to escorting, but that’s another story…