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Telephone Obsessive

making calls from Prague

Back in the day in Prague, before skype and mobile phones, Prague expats were at the mercy of the phone room at the Main Post office, a Communist era holdover where access to the outside world was spotty and still expensive, but a lot less expensive than dialing direct. This article from Velvet Magazine gives you a feel for what it was like...

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Prague's beautiful and all that, but where can you make a hassle-free phone call to wax lyrical about it?

If you've tried all the obvious options-using the phone at work, trudging out to a phone booth in the middle of the night, and using a phone card, none of which are enticing enough to merit the hassle. But let it be known that telephonic bliss can be obtained at the main post office on Jindrisska.

Just past the row of public phones on the left is a small room complete with glass partitioning and an unsmiling staff whose job it is to help you out and shrink the world via satellite. The conversation generally goes like this:

"Hello. I'd like to call England, please." (Waft of 100 Kc note)


"Thank you very much. Which booth?" (Point of pencil and continuation of conversation with colleague.)

Then the excitement begins. In the manner of a knock-knock joke that begins "Who's there?" a telephone in one of the booths starts ringing. The first response is to look around to see whom it may be for, but seeing as you're the only sap in the joint, it must be for you.

A light in the relevant booth is also flashing just like a giant Batphone. You dash in, hoping they don't hang up, grab the receiver, and say, "Hello?"

Of course there's no one there. The staff have quietly tendered their resignations and you feel ridiculous. Nevertheless, you plow on.

Dial number. Await response. Check to make sure that Superman's not in the adjacent booth. Bingo! Someone answers in London.

The credits tick by. The adrenaline pumps. Only ten units left!

The tension is unbearable. You find yourself confessing all to the person on the other end because the line is so clear. Only eight seconds left of unhampered communication!

The line goes dead. You're left high and dry. The compunction to do it all again is overwhelming. It's a game of risk, strategy, and precision timing.

You rush back to the counter, flushed and exhilarated. The dour staff cannot dampen your fervor. The temptation to empty your pockets and sputter, "I'll have two hundred crowns on Great Britain in slot number five" cannot be denied. The staff still hates you! You don't care! The adventure continues.

If Conversation Two is embarked upon and you've upped your odds with a 200 Kc note plunked confidently on the counter, it's safe to say that your gambling experiment is proceeding with the speed of the German autobahn. If you carry on like this, you'll have no money and will take to collecting telephone cards and reselling them to get the next fix. As with all addictive endeavors, it can only get worse: one minute telephones, the next telegrams. Who knows where it'll end-fax abuse?

A useful service, but a dangerous high. You have been warned.

Originally published in Velvet Magazine, archived here. This months FIRST contributors are Omri Ben-Amos, Michelle Legge, Michael Wayne Jr., David Freeling, Radha Burgess and Anne Renahan.