Friday, July 24, 2009

Old numbers

Inspiration for these blog posts come from all over the place.

Kathy had challenged me to come up with a post (my life has been singularly boring these last two weeks, inspiration hard to come by), and I was trying to do so.

Sabra emailed tonight, asking me for the McCarty’s (Robert’s parents, my substitute parents) address; I rattled it off and sent her their phone number to boot (which I have had memorized since around 1972). The number is “342-XXXX”.

Sabra sent me a return email, smilingly enquiring if that wasn’t really “DIamond 2-XXXX.”

I really don’t know why they stopped using the telephone exchanges. I mean, it was such an easier number to remember!

My first memorized telephone number was in Dallas; Mother made me memorize it so if I got lost, I could tell the people who found me how to call her. It was FEderal 7-XXXX. We kept that number until we moved to Corpus Christi, where we had ULysses 7-XXXX. Then on to Ft. Worth, where it was ATlas 8-XXXX. In Little Rock, MOhawk 6-XXXX.

I remember standing on a stool (horrors! none of that today!) at the hall telephone (the telephones were in the hall of the house, always; in fact, most houses

we_302Western Electric 302, like the one in our hall

built before 1970 or so still have a telephone niche in the hall) while Dad dialed up Gramp (his Dad). Dad would lift the receiver and dial “O” for “Operator”. “Operator” she would reply. “Long Distance, please”. “One moment”. Silence, with clicks. No music. No ads.

“Long Distance”. “I’d like to place a station-to-station call (there’s another one….) to the Jones residence in Malvern, Arkansas.” “One moment”. click click “Longview”. “I have a station-to-station call for Malvern, Arkansas”. “One moment”. click click “Texarkana”. “This is Dallas, I have a station-to-station call for Malvern, Arkansas.” “One moment”. click click “Malvern Central”. “This is Dallas, I have a station-to-station call for the Jones residence, EDgewood 7415”. “One moment, I’ll connect you”. ring ring “Hello?” (Gramp, very distant) “This is the long-distance operator, I have a station-to-station call for the Jones residence, is this the Jones residence?” “Yes it is” “Go ahead, please”.

All of that for a 3 minute call; the connection took longer than the call itself. Dad used his kitchen timer. Why 3 minutes? Because when you called, the first 3 minutes were charged when the call was connected, then there was a per-minute charge afterwards.

Person-to-person calls were pretty much ONLY for “deaths in the family”.

Then there was the dreaded “Party Line”. Instead of having a “private line”, you could share a line with one or several neighbours and split the cost. Everybody had their own unique ring. This worked fine in theory---but then you had the chatty teenager who tied up the line for hours, the gossipy neighbour who listened in and then spread the news…there were a whole gamut of jokes about the party lines.

5_bell_logos My Mom worked for Southwestern Bell Telephone Company at 208 S. Akard in downtown Dallas for 20 years. She started out as an operator, then went on to various other posts. She spent a bit of time in the “DDD” office; DDD = Direct Distance Dialing. This office set up the routing for the consumer-dialed long distance calls, using the newly developed “Area Codes”. So, in a way, she helped kill all that preceding business.


Mr.Zip-2003 We lived in Dallas 11, Texas. Before there were ZIP Codes (ZIP standing for Zone Improvement Plan), there were Postal Zones. So we lived in Dallas 11, Texas Mr. Zip, 1964

(now 75211). Great consternation ensued when they added all the numbers to the zones; people thought they were being put-upon to remember all those numbers. Unlike the Area Codes, which now are no longer tied to geographic areas in the big cities---Houston’s are 713 (the original Houston area code), 281, 832, 409, and 979---the ZIP codes are actually still local. So Houston is 770, San Antonio 782, Waco 767, Ft. Worth 762, Dallas 752, Tulsa 741, Little Rock 727, etc. The old zone number is the last two.

While I’m ranting about “things lost”, there is the usual consternation involved in trying to remember the 2-letter state abbreviations. People always screw up Arkansas, “AK” is “Alaska”, “AR” is Arkansas, not “Arizona”, which is “AZ”. At least they didn’t make Arkansas “AS”. The old abbreviations weren’t as easily scanned with optical scanners, nor were they as efficient---but Ark, Tex, Ala, Fla, Tenn, Okla, Cal, Ariz, Miss sure seemed more “user-friendly” to me. (Land of Opportunity, Lone Star State, Heart of Dixie, Sunshine State, Volunteer State, is OK!, Golden State, Grand Canyon State, Magnolia State, respectively. You knew that because their license plates proclaimed it). A bygone era.


I started thinking about all this last weekend in San Antonio; Dad’s cell phone is about dead and we were trying to figure out what to do for a replacement. Dad’s not above a little technology (he was an engineer), but the new phones are something else. We looked at the iphone (AT&T would just LOVE to get me on an iphone plan; problem is, I primarily want that functionality for the GPS and that’s $25 on top of the $30 a month they charge for the data package---$55 a month extra! No wonder they want me so badly….). In any event, consider the long-distance process described above when compared with a sleek new 32gb iphone, from which you can direct-dial Tokyo if you wish---and be furious when it takes longer than 3 seconds to complete the call.

The mind boggles.

I now have an “OSage 9” phone in Houston 77, Texas


  1. Great post. Brought back lots of memories. In Camden we were TEmple 6-xxxx. For a long time my grandparents' number in Lewisville was 88. It's really mind boggling how many numbers the brain can retain.

  2. That was quite a trip down "Memory Lane." Neosho's prefix was GLendale 1-xxxx. That always seemed like it should have been a California number.

    By the time I moved to Tulsa in 1981, the numbers were all digits. But it had not been that long since the change. My number there was 743-xxxx. The old way made more sense because it was RIverside3-xxxx. My house was within two blocks of the Arkansas river.