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Phone numbers no longer significant

POSTED: November 17, 2013 1:00 a.m.

The people who issue phone numbers say we have run out of numbers again.

When they first handed out area codes, this area was 404. Any place in the southern half of the state was 912. That was plenty.

Then came pagers, fax machines and, of course, cell phones.

We were eating up numbers like crazy. They added all sorts of area codes. Even then, you could generally tell where somebody was located by their area code.

I heard a guy in a restaurant talking about his customers once.

“The place is full of 770s,” he told a co-worker, meaning his clientele that night was from outside of I-285.

It was a bit insulting. My money was just as good as city folks.

Before area codes, we once had prefixes. Our first phone number was PLaza-5-6029. The first two letters of the prefix corresponded to the letters on the telephone dial.

In the previous sentence, I just dated myself.

A telephone dial was a spring-loaded gizmo you turned with your finger to dial a number. A prefix was an indicator of where you were in a given town.

When channel 17 was in its early days, one of its regular advertisers was the Armstrong Slipcover Co., an outfit that made clear vinyl slipcovers to protect your upholstered furniture. I had a relative who had a set. If you squirmed around on the sofa, you would squeak.

I don’t think they’ve been in business for a long time, but I remember their phone number was JAckson-2-0100. They repeated it so many times in the commercial it is seared in my mind. I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday, but I know the phone number of an out-of-business slipcover company.

I saw an old clip recently from Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour. There was a banner hanging at the bottom of the screen with the phone number, JUdson-6-7000.

Again, for young whipper-snappers, Ted Mack’s show was an early version of competitions like “American Idol” and “The Voice.” He discovered stars such as Gladys Knight and Pat Boone. I’m not going to try to explain who they are. Ask your grandparents.

I can remember phone numbers with prefixes like MUrphy, TRinity, ESsex and SYcamore.

Here’s a great trivia question: What was Lucy and Ricky Ricardo’s phone number? MUrray Hill 5-9975.

Now, it seems area codes and prefixes mean nothing. Folks don’t even change their number on cell phones. My brother-in-law hasn’t lived in Virginia in years, but his phone still has an area code from there.

Cell phone companies used to hand out numbers based on where you live, but it seems those days are gone. We have an entire generation that has grown up not knowing what a long distance phone call is. If I was calling long distance, my mother would stick her head in the hall in about five minutes and tap her watch. Now, folks don’t wear watches because they can get the time on their cell phone.

I still proudly own a 1950s era rotary dial phone and it works fine. It is hooked up to the home phone line, which now only rings when a telemarketer is trying to sell me a mortgage, timeshare condo or some kind of credit card.

I was born a 404, became a 912, then a 770. Now, I’ve been reduced to 10 meaningless numbers. I miss the old days.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.


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