back contents next August 30, 1999

Photo Hunt (Mike Lake Guest Entry)

Mike LakeI had to get a passport. I'm travelling with Eileene's whole clan to the Philippines right after Christmas, where I'll be on display as the American, apparently an object of some fascination over there. But I've never been out of the country before, so I had to get a passport, which in turn meant I needed various identification, about $60 ($100 if I wanted the passport within my lifetime), and a current photo.

I probably could have saved myself some hassle by getting mine with the rest of the family, but an emergency at work meant I had to go on my own the next week. No problem: the Coscolluelas went first and reported the process was quick--an hour or two, max, counting the drive to Newark--and mostly painless.

So I get up early Monday morning, make sure I have my ID and reading material for waiting in line, stop at the bank for a sheaf of twenties, get gas, and head off for the PathMart on the seedy side of town, clutching three singles for the photobooth. You know the kind I mean: the little booth with a draw curtain serving no real purpose, a tiny bench, and a little screen hiding the camera. Sit down, put your money in, grin, and a flash and whir later, you have four cheap photos.

The bench in this case is actually a stool that some wag has screwed high enough for photographing my navel, so I have to spend a couple very squeaky minutes screwing it back down. (The draw curtain does serve to hide my face while the grinding squeaks echo across the store, so I must admit it's not wholly useless.) I then sit down, feed my money into the slot, and...

Huh. The machine doesn't want my money. Only now, after a two- minute seat-squeaking racket, do I realize the photobooth isn't running.

Huh. Now what? I haven't lived long in the area, so I don't know where to find another photobooth.

Fortunately, inspiration strikes. There's a small sign in the booth informing patrons that it doesn't actually belong to PathMart. Questions and complaints should be directed to this number. So I jot the number down and head for the bank of public phones; with luck, the vendor can tell me where in the area they have a working booth.

But I don't get the vendor. I get a recorded message informing me that, due to an area code change, it is now a long-distance call. The business hasn't moved, but the phones have moved under it, so to speak, so I no longer have sufficient change to speak to them. Crud. Okay, I'll drive back across town, call from home, wind up a half-hour late, but basically no harm done.

(Heading up my home street, I pass Eileene waiting on the corner for the bus to work. She sees me and assumes I've returned for something I've forgotten. Only later does she begin to wonder what I could have lost so thoroughly and need so badly as to spend this long in the house looking for it. Little does she know...)

I'm busy calling the next town over. One ringy-dingy...two ringy-dingies...*click* buzz. buzz. buzz. *Click!* An automated machine has just hung up on me. That can't be right. I dial again. One ringy-dingy, two ringie-dingies...*click* buzz. buzz. *Click!*

Huh. Now what? The photobooth vendor doesn't want to speak to me. I would go to one of his competitors just for spite at this point, but I don't know who his competitors are. Or, more to the point, where they keep their booths.

After pausing a few minutes to weigh my options, I resist the temptation just to go to work and put the passport off a day. Eileene could well get quite pissy about it. Besides, I'm not that desperate. Instead I go online, where you can find anything you need at the touch of a browser, right?

Mostly I get web pages of photobooth vendors who want YOU to make scads of money by renting their booths. Here's how! Call today! Operators are standing by! None of them offer any indication of their markets, clients, or locations of booths. I wade through a dozen offers to become rich, vowing to become a millionaire by renting photobooths right after I get my passport, but decide this search is getting me nowhere. I'm running out of leads, but I'm not desperate. Not yet, at least. What I need is a location of one tiny photobooth in Essex County, NJ. How can I find an actual photobooth location?

There's a page for everything. Somebody maintains a personal web page listing photobooth locations, for chrissake. The essence of the page is "Hi, guys, please tell me about photobooths you know, and I'll list them here." She lists a few hundred, from around the world, in chronological order of her receipt. So actually finding the location you want is a matter of reading the whole list, hoping for a lucky strike in your home town.

I glance over the list, but it quickly becomes obvious that it's a page for people who are either really, really bored or really, really desperate for a photobooth location. I'm not quite that desperate. Not yet.

Instead, I chalk off another hour wasted and head for the (old- fashioned, paper) Yellow Pages, hunting for businesses which might have photo booths. K-Mart is a strong possibility, but I learn there are no K-Marts around here, and I can't think of the New Jersey equivalent. (Remember, I'm familiar with Midwest chains.) Nor do the Yellow Pages go out of their way to make the index helpful. For example, the Yellow Pages do not list grocery stores. They do list "food sellers," which I find by accident. (I defy you to recall a time you asked your spouse, "Honey, can you look up the number of the food seller's?") But grocery stores, so far as the Yellow Pages are concerned, do not exist. Department stores are clothing only. Shopping Centers seem to be strip malls with nobody in the central office. Convenience stores do not exist. Likewise supermarkets. I'm just now beginning to get desperate.

Malls! Malls have photobooths. At least they do in Illinois, tucked back in the service hall leading to the bathrooms and/or offices. Okay, I start calling mall customer service, asking if they have photobooths.

Mall #1: No.
Mall #2: No, but we have a photography studio...
Mall #3: We have photographers who can...
Mall #4: Sorry, no.
Mall #5 and final: Yes.

Hurrah! At last, I know where to find a working photobooth, twenty miles in the wrong direction, perhaps, but a working photobooth. Wait a minute, it does work, right? Mall #6: Yes. Okay! I'm set. I'll be three hours late, but I'll have my passport photo. Photobooth, here I come.

They don't have one after all. What they have is a photographer in one of those vendor stands in the middle of the walkway. Apparently the service rep figured: "photographer + vendor booth = photobooth." The guy in the stand will take my picture for $6, or $10 for the two I need for the passport. Okay, I'm desperate. I shell out my money, get two needlessly good photos, drive to Newark, and apply for my passport with a bare minimum of hassle.

It's easier to go to a foreign country than to take your own photo.

back contents next

© Copyright 1999 Eileene Coscolluela