Nobody died. No one got sick. But this is a sad story just the same.

It is about a phone booth. In the Mojave Desert. "The loneliest phone booth in the world," they called it.

It sat by itself, miles from anywhere, in a dusty stretch amidst scrub brush and dirt. Its windows were shot out. Its door was long gone. Its hinges showed decay from the harsh desert climate.

But it worked.

The phone booth, not far from Death Valley, originally was installed many years ago, so miners could have contact with the outside world in case of emergency.

Times changed. Miners left.

The phone booth remained.

Until this month, when the phone booth was eliminated. It suffered a modern fate, a 21st-century calamity, a force so destructive that even the most sturdy of structures could not withstand it, let alone a little old phone booth.

I am not talking hurricanes. I am not talking floods. I am not talking hail, wind, thunder or lightning.

I am talking Internet.

Everything these days winds up on a Web site, from body parts being auctioned off on eBay, to a 24-hour camera in a woman's dorm room.

So it was inevitable that the loneliest phone booth in the world became a Web destination. And it did. News was posted. Pictures were downloaded. The phone number was given out. And people from all over the world began calling at all hours, just to see who would answer.

Web surfers in Holland, Africa, South America, Australia people with no chance of ever getting to this lonely stretch of California desert nonetheless wanted to bring a piece of it into their living rooms.

Once upon a time, we accepted the idea that certain places were out of reach. Now, nothing is farther than our fingertips.

So Internet junkies called up the lonely phone booth Web site, and they chatted and they fussed, and they dialed the number incessantly. And when someone would answer they'd say important things like, "Hi! Who's this?"

And soon the loneliest phone booth in the world became a destination. And curiosity seekers began driving two hours from the Nevada border to find it. They took pictures. They'd make calls.

They hounded local ranchers for directions. They left rocks at the booth with painted messages.

Eventually, there were so many cars, some of which got stuck and needed assistance, and so many visitors, some of whom vandalized the booth, and so much disturbance of the natural environment, including a campfire that blazed out of control a few weeks ago that the National Park Service folks said, "Enough."


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