Pearl Street

What is this!? (And a brief note about “SMILE”)

Pay Phone on Pearl Street. Boulder, Colorado, 2016
Pay Phone on Pearl Street. Boulder, Colorado, 2016


For those under the age of, say, 25-years-old, this is for you.

The above “thing” is called a pay phone. They were very common back in the primitive days before mobile phones became ubiquitous. Nowadays it is quite rare to find one still alive and connected. This example is on Pearl Street, in downtown Boulder, Colorado.

The idea was that you could stop, stuff a dime (four quarters today) in the slot, dial a number by punching those square metal buttons, and communicate, using the handle-like thing, with whomever struck your fancy. Unfortunately, you couldn’t walk while you talked as the rectangular box was permanently affixed to the wall–so you just stood there, leaned against it, and chatted away.

Another cool pay phone triviality: When a call didn’t go through, your coin(s) would fall into the little change return box at the bottom. Many callers would forget to retrieve their coins after a failed call. So, check that little box when you walk by–you might get lucky and pick up some free change!

Now the brief note about “SMILE”…

Note the intricate portrait of the face and hand that has been painted on the right side of the pay phone box. It appears to be signed “SME”, but if you look closely, the signature actually says “SMILE”. This is apparently a local graffiti artist and you will find his/her heart-warming work all up and down Pearl Street and elsewhere in town if you take the time to look. If someone knows who he or she might be and whether or not he/she has a website I can link to, please let me know. (A cursory internet search with Ms. Google revealed a mountain of images posted by admirers, but no indication of identity.)