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NYC: Meet Your New Pay Phone!
Plus! Memorial Day Marching Orders! Beauty Tips From Nuns #3!
Happy Memorial Day and welcome to Issue #30 of CAFÉ ANNE!
If you don’t yet have plans for your big day off, here are three CHEAPIE suggestions:
OPTION ONE: The Hammock Grove on Governor’s Island
It’s just what it sounds—a grassy grove strung with hammocks. It’s free and you can just lie there all day in the World Capital of Lazy. For snacks, I suggest a big bag of nacho cheese Doritos and a liter-bottle of Coca-Cola. Double those portions if you’ve got company.
OPTION TWO: Walk Brooklyn’s Nostrand and Bedford Avenues
Starting at the intersection of Nostrand and Flatbush Ave. (aka the Junction!) and heading north to McCarren Park, this six-mile odyssey will take you through four fantastic NYC galaxies: Caribbean Flatbush, Black Bed-Stuy, Hasidic Williamsburg South and post-hipster Williamsburg-Williamsburg. Oh man, just writing this makes me want to get walking!
OPTION THREE: The Food Court at New World Mall in Flushing, Queens
I’m not even going to pretend I know what’s going on here. It’s a huge, subterranean food court in a Chinese mall with 32 food stalls and communal seating. Who am I? What am I eating? Vendors include “Tiger Sugar,” “Heat Noodle” and the aptly named “Korea Chinese Food.”
In other news, Zak Rosen has me back on his podcast, the delightful The Best Advice Show, this time chatting about how to decide what books to discard—a perennial issue for New Yorkers with reading addictions and limited self space.
Finally, I hope you enjoy this week’s issue, which includes a belated look at NYC’s new pay phones and the third installment of “Beauty Tips With Nuns,” this time featuring Sister Lisa Hezmalhach in Concho, Arizona.
Weird Trash Heap #19
Reader Karen M. of Manhattan’s Upper West Side captured this delightful post-Christmas tableau. Zoom in and you’ll see, in addition to the passed-out Santa, several dozen boxes of string lights, wrapping paper and an entire ink-jet printer.
Karen says she spotted the scene in front of the CVS at 110 Broadway, “Which always has interesting trash outside.”
Please send your weird trash heap photo to email@example.com and I will include it in a future issue.
MY WILD BROOKLYN LIFE
NYC: Meet Your New Pay Phone
A number of readers alerted me to an article in the New York Post last week chronicling the removal of the last pay phone in New York City. I agreed that this was sad—the end of an era. Remember when we all knew better than to stick our fingers in the coin return slot as it might be planted with hypodermic needles? Those were the days!
Except this wasn’t actually the end of an era at all! As an article on Hellgate and comments r/NYC subreddit immediately noted, there are still plenty of pay phones all over the city. And yet the tabloids dutifully sound the alarm every couple years declaring their extinction.
In this case, it turns out, the Post article was about the last city-owned pay phone. There are still plenty of privately-owned pay phones in subway stations and on the sidewalk. Some of them actually function!
All this got me considering the technology that’s supposed to succeed the public pay phone. I’m talking LinkNYC—the ad-supported network of communication kiosks looming on street corners all the city. According to the network’s website, LinkNYC is “replacing pay phones across the five boroughs with new structures called Links. Each Link provides super fast, free public Wi-Fi, phone calls, device charging, and a tablet for access to city services, maps and directions.”
The Links—stainless steel slabs that look like the monolith from 2001 Space Odyssey, only with 50-inch LED screens advertising Broadway shows and trips to Montreal—started appearing a few years ago. There’s one around the corner from my home in Brooklyn Heights, on Montague Street. But I’ve never seen anyone use one. Ever. It was time for a CAFÉ ANNE investigation.
My first experiment: make a free phone call. I felt a little self-conscious because unless you happen to possess a certain type of headphone to plug in to the kiosk, everyone passing by can hear both sides of your conversation.
Who to call? I decided to dail Aharon in Flatbush, probably the only person I know who would answer a call from a strange number. I wasn’t wrong.
“Aharon, can you hear me?”
“It’s Anne!” I was shouting into the receiver mounted on the kiosk front.
“Whoa,” said Aharon. “Why can I barely hear you?”
“I”m calling you from a LinkNYC!” I hollered.
“F—!” he said. “I’m sorry, I don’t have that in cash. Will they accept Dogecoin for bail?
“It’s weird, it’s not static-y or anything, but it’s very murky,” he added of the sound quality.
“Well, everyone passing by on the sidewalk can hear you.” I told him.
Aharon told me he’d never tried using a Link, “But every time I go by one, I say, ‘I should really use one of those,’ and then I say, ‘Wait, I have a phone.’”
“I’m glad the availability of superior options did not stop you,” he added. “Is this for a story?”
“It’s for CAFÉ ANNE,” I said. “You saw that they supposedly got rid of the last pay phone, which these are suppose to replace?”
“Oh yeah,” said Aharon. “But I feel like I saw a pay phone recently…”
That’s when we got disconnected.
Aharon tried calling me back using the number on his caller ID: 917 351 5504, but got a prerecorded message informing him that Links don’t accept incoming calls. So much for the drug trade!
The next day, I decided test the Link’s way-finding prowess by requesting directions to Prospect Park. I know the way, of course—I’ve made the 2.2-mile trip hundreds of times. Would the Link know that the best route is the 2/3 train from Borough Hall to Grand Army Plaza?
I was hoping the Link would use some weird, home-grown algorithm and was disappointed to discover that it relies on Google Maps data. You locate your destination on a touch screen and it spits out a route.
The Link’s first suggestion? The 2/3 train. Good job!
But it took a lot of digital navigating and futzing to get there. I next tried asking three passersby how to get to Prospect Park, and each gave me the correct answer, only a lot faster, and with a smile. A teenage boy accompanied by his pals even took the time to double check on his own phone. It was lot more fun than the Link.
The Link’s third feature is its “Strong, fast Wi-Fi.” And internet browsing does seem to be one Link service that New Yorkers actually use. Early on, there were many reports of people using the kiosks to watch porn, an issue supposedly resolved when web browsing was disabled on the kiok’s built-in tablets.
But can people still use Link Wi-Fi to watch porn on their own devices? Many public Wifi providers such as Starbucks block access to such entertainments. To find out, I brought my iPad around, connected to the Link, fired up my browser and did a search on “porn.” I clicked on the first result: Pornhub.
“Oh my goodness!” I said out loud, scanning the naughty pictures.
The Link Wi-Fi also did a good job allowing me to stream a non-porn movie. I sat for more than hour on a nearby stoop watching my brother-in-law’s new production of Hamlet before I got hungry and went home to eat dinner. The connection was strong and stable, perhaps because no one else was using it.
My last test was of the Link’s charging capabilities. Friday afternoon, I plugged in my iPhone using a UBS cable and killed time exploring the other options on the Link’s touch screen.
If I were in Boss of All Kiosks, the Link would dispense candy and tell fortunes. Sadly, this machine does neither. But it does list the nearest ATM, public restrooms and coffee joints. It also connects to various city and social service agencies, just in case you are walking down the street and suddenly need to know how to get food stamps or find a homeless shelter.
Perhaps, dawned on me, the network was designed mainly for folks who are too poor to afford a cell phone. Was that the deal?
As if by magic, a young lady suddenly appeared at my side and plugged her phone into the kiosk’s other charging port.
“Wow! I’ve never seen anyone use one of these!” I told her. “Can I ask you couple questions for my blog?”
“Sure!” she said. She told me her name was Morgan and that she lives “a little of everywhere, at the moment.”
“How often do you use this thing?” I asked.
“As little as possible,” she said, lighting a half-smoked cigarette she’d pulled from her pocketbook. “But I see people using them all time. You can make calls off of it, pull directions off it. When they first put them up, you could go on the internet, but they took that away because old men would sit and watch porn.”
“I read about that,” I said.
“There are regulars who use them,” she added. “People who don’t have phones. Which I don’t understand. They give them out a dime a dozen.”
“Yeah, that’s what this is,” she said, holding up her phone, which had a badly cracked screen. “They call them Obama Phones. Obama started it. For people that weren’t necessarily poor, but on the other end of the scale and couldn’t afford a phone. You see the people out offering tablets and phones at the little stands? They’re free phones!”
“What do you mean, the little stands?” I said.
“When you walk down the street, you don’t see the people sitting out with boxes of phones saying, ‘Free phones’? Oh my god!”
“I feel like you’re living in a different world,” I said, “A world where everyone’s using Link, and there’s free phones everywhere.”
“Listen. I came from two very different ends of life,” said Morgan. “I came from Upstate. A very well-off family. And I became the black sheep of the family, so my life went from one drastic to the other drastic. So if you walk by like Atlantic-Barclay or even Fulton, there’s people out there with tablets and phones. Tablets cost, I think, $11, they told me, to activate. But then you get free everything, including service.”
“The Obama Phones, of which there’s many different ones, they do free talk, text and data,” she continued. “But you have to qualify. Most people do. They just take your name and stuff and put it through. If you’re on any type of assistance, you qualify. There’s a whole list of shit that make you qualify for it.”
I later looked this up, and she’s right. The Obama Phone is very much a thing, and yes, pretty any low-income person will qualify.
“Huh,” I said. “I was thinking that Link must be for people who don’t have a phone, but what you’re saying is everybody has a phone.”
“Well there’s really no reason no one shouldn’t have a phone now,” said Morgan. “But my better half, for example, pretty much loses his phone every other day, in which case the Link helps out.”
Morgan knew where the Links were located all over the city. “There’s one over on Clark and Henry, where the 2 train is. And then when you go downtown there’s a few. In Manhattan, they’re everywhere. Every corner,” she said. “Honestly, God forgive me for this, but I don’t really understand why they’re in this neighborhood. It’s a weird neighborhood to have it in…this is more of a money neighborhood.”
Her friend joined us. “This is my better half I told you about, the one who loses phones all the time,” she said.
“Seven years we’ve been together,” he said proudly.
“Alright,” said Morgan. “I’m going to be off.”
“Can I take your photo for my blog” I asked.
“No,” said Morgan.
“Okay,” I said. “I’m going to keep charging for a while.”
“And it will be a while, I assure you,” she said.
I stayed on the corner, letting my phone charge. It was quite slow, as Morgan predicted. Then my friend Per came by to drop off a sample of his new coffee brand. He’s had a long career in tech, so I asked him about his relationship with LinkNYC: “Have you ever used one of these?”
He had not. But he had opinions. What would really be useful, he said, is if they consistently displayed the time, weather forecast and transportation time tables rather than what they do display, which is mostly ads.
“They’re supposed to take the place of public telephone booths, but you can’t change clothes in them,” he added. “What does Superman do now? Go to New York Sports Club, like the rest of us.”
BEAUTY TIPS FROM NUNS
Sister Lisa Hezmalhalch
Sister Lisa, 41, is relatively new to convent life and the sole sister founding a new Augustinian community at League of the Blessed Sacrament, in Concho, Arizona—a remote village four hours from Phoenix. She was previously the director of student retention at Multnomah University in Portland. It’s a big change!
“I live in a place with big spiders and I don’t like that,” says Sister Lisa of her new locale. “But I was told when I was discerning religious life that if the Lord’s called you to something, he’ll give you the grace for it.”
“I’m a bit entertaining in how I present myself and also I’m able to communicate things in a way that crosses barriers,” she says. “It helps people feel welcome in a world they’re not used to. I’m not offended by people asking very blunt and awkward questions, and can answer them in a way that makes people comfortable to engage.”
Compared to the questions Sister Lisa gets on TikTok, mine were a load of softballs.
What makes a person beautiful?
I honestly think the more beautiful you are on the inside, the more content you are with just who you are, that shines out. It really does. It doesn't matter what you look like on the outside. How comfortable you are with who you are on the inside just radiates. I think people see that often more than they even see your physical attributes.
Basic grooming! Make sure you don't smell, make sure everything's clean, and you can be pretty beautiful. It doesn't matter what your features are. Just make sure you're groomed.
Do you have an outer beauty tip?
This one will be for a very niche audience, and it mostly comes from my life of having curly hair. If you brush your hair out, and it's really frizzy, it means you have curly hair. That's all.
Nobody told me that until I was in my 20s. I just brushed it all the time. And it was very frizzy. And then I put gel in it once, and it was never the same. And I feel like there's so many young people out there, and maybe even old people who just don't know—they have curly hair.
So leave it alone! Let it curl!
Yeah, yeah. I used to get the best compliments when I wouldn't do much to my hair after I washed it. But if I brushed it out, it was huge.
What gives a person inner beauty?
Like I said, I think it's that acceptance of who you are. And that doesn’t mean you're perfect. It doesn't even mean you should stay exactly who you are at that very moment. It means that you understand how you're created, and you have that desire to continue to grow.
A good analogy is you can have a really basic piece of pottery that's very functional, and does its job, but isn't very beautiful to look at. And I feel like on some level, that's all of us at our most basic, we're just these basic pieces of pottery. We're functional, we get the job done.
But the more we understand who we are, the more we can add to the outside of our structure and embrace who we are. So, you know, if I'm a teapot, I'm not going to try and pass myself off as a flower pot. I mean, you could. There's actually people who plant flowers in teapots. It’s cute. Whatever! But it’s about embracing who you've been created to be and then bettering yourself in that area.
So I guess the obvious question is, how do you discover who you were created to be?
Golly, that's just life. I had friends who like to go to the baseball game all the time, so I went with them. Is baseball my thing? My friends were my thing. I liked my friends. Baseball wasn't really my thing. I enjoyed it. That was about it. So it’s just having those life experiences and understanding who you are. And if it's different than your friends, it's okay.
You're almost saying its trial and error.
A bit. Yeah. And not being afraid to try things!
CAFÉ ANNE is a free newsletter created by Brooklyn journalist Anne Kadet. Subscribe to get the latest issue every Monday!