Calling Puerto Rico as witnessed by many

Preface 1: For the younger generation: A phone box was a public telephone installed in a small structure on a sidewalk or a square, measuring 75 x 75 x 230 cm, with room enough for exactly one person, with a roof and a door. Most phone boxes were made out of glass in a wooden or metal frame and contained a square apparatus about half a cubic meter large equipped with a heavy receiver and a slot to put in real coins, no credit cards. To place a call, you used a disc-shaped device called a rotary dial. If a connection could be made successfully to the person you wanted to talk to, you had a precisely measured amount of time to talk, depending on how much money you had inserted into the apparatus.

Preface 2: In the age of landlines, the static and crackling noises and frequent interruptions associated with long distance calls really gave you the impression that you were talking to someone far away. Such calls were extremely expensive and were hence kept as short as possible or avoided.

One early afternoon in foggy November 1974 a quite unusual and considerably long queue of people waiting to place individual phone calls had formed in front of the lonely phone box on the vast square between the Cour des Adieux and the Residence. For some unexplained reason, this public phone had suddenly allowed long distance calls to be placed without payment. Since nothing spreads as fast as an exclusive and ultra-secret tip, it took only a short while before the queue started growing steadily as the man inside the box conducted his conversation for almost half an hour. Yet nobody complained because they all were entertained: Bibi Rodriguez was in the phone box, completely oblivious of the audience around him, giving a memorable performance of extreme and utter outrage. His volume, gesture and expressions certainly merited an Oscar nomination. He leaped up and down, stamped, waved his arms, shouted, yelled and cascaded Spanish insults in the receiver with such intensity in this very confined space, that one had the impression of the door and glass windows bending outwards like in a Disney cartoon.

It was so loud that he would hardly have needed a phone at all to be heard in Puerto Rico, where he was calling. Finally he gave way, somehow exhausted, but apparently quite satisfied to have made his point clear.

Whatever made Bibi so mad was never revealed, but his next door roommate in Residence, Luca Garabet, told us that it must not have been a particularly serious or outstanding event but rather the local Puerto Rico style of sorting things out.

What a nice, friendly chap Bibi was, warmhearted and never rude or aggressive. We remember him dearly. However, none of us has ever talked to him on the phone from San Juan.

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