I usually get my fix in the traditional analogue way. I snap pictures, drive to the lab, wait, drive back to the lab, scan, and enjoy. You may have heard of 35mm referred to as a "gateway drug;" of this, I am living proof. Sometimes, late at night, I find I just can't wait. That's when I turn to something a little more hardcore: old school photobooths.
I had an impulse to find a photobooth last night at 10:15 pm. The kids were sleeping, my lovely wife was reading a book, and the dog was resting quietly on the living room floor. I thought to myself, “There used to be a B&W chemical booth at the downtown Greyhound station, I could head there.” It sounded like a good thought, so I said it out loud. My wife said I should watch out for sketchy people. I knew that she was right. I grabbed the two things that I knew separated me from sketchy people: a courderoy sport coat and deodorant. I was all set.
Ten minutes later I was pulling up in front of the station. I could see the vintage PHOTOS sign through the dingy window. I jay-walked toward the main entrance and threaded the taxi cab line-up that reminded me of my place in time relative to the arrival of the next bus.
I gingerly yet confidently pushed open the glass door with my sleeved elbow and was welcomed by the smell of boredom and body odor. I was by myself, but instinct told me to tell the kids not to touch anything. I purposefully strolled past and through the crowd of soon-to-be passengers on the lonely road to Saskatoon. Some of them looked through me, most of them looked at nothing. Some were attempting escaped through headphones or eyelids. I thought of snapping a shot in here, but to do so in these fancy shoes would have been risking personal safety.
Past the awkward, sweaty crowd was a small expanse of open tile before a dated and unloved photobooth. I immediately took a picture of it with my phone while the security guard and A&W manager looked on. It wasn’t the black & white booth I remembered from that time I took the bus to who-knows-where in my university days. It was a color booth in a different part of the station. I could feel them briefly sizing me up before deciding I was worth the effort of their thought. They went back to talking about french fries and ice.
I pushed the black curtain aside and sat in the booth, swiveled the stool beneath me, thought about the dim light, and put a two-dollar coin in the slot. It didn’t drop. I thoughtlessly repeated the action. Nothing. Then it dawned on me that there were no lights on.
Behind the booth I saw a couple of power cords limp on the dirty floor, So I plugged both in and wiped my hand on my pants. The lights came on, and the machine gently hummed to itself. I recognized the tune, but it sounded old and tired. I sat back down on the appropriately adjusted seat, dropped the coins, pulled a few faces, and stood up for the 3 minute wait.
The instant photo became instant disappointment as I saw the brownish-red strip; a sure sign that the chemicals were way past due for their check up. I stared intently at the still-drying paper in my hand, and could vaguely make out the outlines of my over-confident head and shoulders; not even a glimmer of my clever t-shirt. I wrote down the PLEASE CALL FOR SERVICE number for a future phone call, and headed back to the car.
I realized I was only two blocks from the next closest possible booth location, and because of the lateness of the night, and the sketchiness of the location, I moved the car closer instead of covering the short distance on foot. I took the elevator to the 3rd floor, and stepped out to see that where there once were two booths across the vast foyer beside the string of movie posters, now there stood a lone booth. Alone, but humming and alight.
A young couple crossed my path as I approached my destination. “Are you going to get your picture taken?” the girl asked.
“I sure am.” I said.
“Cool.” she said.
“Uhuh…” I said.
I pushed back the black curtain, moved the orange and blue backgrounds aside, adjusted the seat, dropped 4 coins, mugged at my reflection, and waited.
The booth was clean and in great shape. I peeked behind the machine while I waited, and saw a dust free nook and/or cranny with a labelled power cord: DO NOT UNPLUG AT NIGHT. That’s how it’s done.
The tell-tale subdued ka-chunk pulled my attention to the drop slot. I gave the quickly evaporating moisture some personal space for a brief moment, and then grasped the paper strip to see my charming result.