Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Ode to the Land Line

This week I took the giant step and had my land line phone disconnected. It rarely rings, and usually the calls are for clothing donations and fund solicitations. I am now tethered to the world solely by my cell phone. But it is a new snazzy red model with lots of bells and whistles. Like messaging included in the package. For five years, I have paid for individual texts because I'm in denial that I text. Reality has come calling.

( A little phone humor there.)

Call me crazy, but this transition is a little sad. I've had a lifelong connection with the evolution of the telephone. When I was little, home phones had to be rented, and were attached to the wall in the most inconvenient places. At my house, there was a built in phone shelf in the kitchen that I had to stand on a chair to reach; at my grandmother's house, the shelf was in a hallway. There was no privacy on those phones, which didn't matter much because the phone receiver was so heavy you really couldn't hold it and talk for long. Long distance calls had to be placed by an operator, and even in my hometown of Austin there were party lines: we shared our line with our neighbors. You waited your turn, and you didn't listen to other callers' conversations. Or at least you didn't breathe too loudly if you were listening.

When you told someone your phone number, you usually began it with letters that identified your neighborhood. My earliest phone number was GL2-3589. (Called it recently and it was a recording of a youth league soccer schedule. Wrong. Just wrong.) Someone mentioned this antiquated letter/number configuration at a gathering recently, and everyone of a certain age in the room could recite their first phone number.

At some point in my teenaged years, there was a deregulation of the phone company monopoly. Ma Bell produced many Baby Bells. (Google it if that seems like a foreign language to you.) You could own phones, but they were still attached to cords in the wall. Many homes had separate lines for the children, and the female phone of choice was called a "princess phone". (Read that: small, rounded and usually pink.)

Because The Phone Company had lost money in this dissection of the company, they often turned to other methods to squeeze more money out of customers. (Nothing has changed, hunh?) I remember coming home from college in the summers, and renting a phone for my efficiency apartments. The phone people would actually say things like, "You need a second line in the bedroom in case someone breaks in and you have to call the police." Listen, if someone broke into those tiny apartments (1) there was nothing to take but the cinderblock tv stand and (2) you could see every room from every room.  A second phone was not effective as security.

The long cord on a phone debuted about the time I had children. And they knew exactly how far it stretched. And would stand at that line when I was on the phone and try to play with knives and bleach. (Kidding: it was mostly scissors and Elmer's to glue their haircut back in place.) Most of my phone coversations were punctuated by snapping fingers, followed by a hand over the receiver issuing consequences for when I got off the phone.

Cordless phones represented Freedom. You could talk anywhere on your property--even outside--on these phones. Young Son once took our portable  phone in his backpack to school to see the distance it would work. It was days before he remembered where he put it for this little science experiment.

Our first cell phone was roughly the size and weight of a brick. And roaming charges kept calls short and to the point.  The introduction of generation after generation of cell phones, smart phones, and iPhones since that time has just been a dazzlement of technology.

So, good-bye land line. I'll miss you. What I will miss most? Dave's voice  still on the message. I listened to it often, kind of pretending he was still home. "We aren't able to come to the phone right now, but leave your message after the beep and we'll get right back to you."

Pressing on.


Lynn said...

I can identify with your story of phone history. When I was a child our country party line had 14 families on it!!! Our numbers were different than yours - 202ring14 - our ring on this party line was 1 long ring and 4 short ones. We had a crank on the phone and you literally rang the long and short rings yourself. To phone beyond our party line we had to call the operator which was one long ring!! Wow how things have changed, I still have a land line and make most of my calls from it as it is cheaper than my cell phone.

I so identify with the long cord, amazing how those kids could figure out just how far that cord would reach and stay just out of reach!! LOL I did very similar things as you - snapping fingers, covering the speaker and issuing threats that they knew I couldn't carry out and continue my conversation!! Thanks for the trip down memory lane:o)!!

Craig Weeks said...

BR9-3476 (1954 to 1965). I believe it sat on a shelf in the hallway directly under the attic fan. (The attic fan part is irrelevant but I just want to prove that my life includes ancient history, too.)

I just disconnected my mom's landline in Dallas after 42+ years of continuous service.

My grandmother had a pink princess phone.

"... snapping fingers ... consequences ...". I have it pictured perfectly.

Locketts said...

As one who was party to the Elmer's glue and sand snowcones just beyond your cord reach I too bid adieu to your landline. Something else that has evolved quite a bit since those days - addresses. Our address at the lake was Star Roue 1. That's it. I would just draw a 5-point star instead of writing the word. Thought I was the coolest kid in class on 'learn your address day'.

Buttercup said...

Just call me Chapel 7-6027. It's amazing that I can still remember the number. I haven't gotten to the point of letting go of the land line, but it really does make sense. I so rarely use my home phone, but it is more comfortable to talk on.

Kay said...

Have I told you recently how much I love your blog??? I just disconnected the home phone at my daddy's house.. the same phone I was talking on 7/20/69 when the American's landed on the moon - and the same place where I was standing when the 40th anniversary of the same event happened... It is a big step...
adios, 454-7289!

k and c's mom said...

This has become like a support group for people who remember their first phone numbers! And Craig: there was an attic fan over our hallway phone: I remember that because it made it too hard to hear.
And PS: my son told me it was probably "harder for older people to give up their home phones". Who IS he talking about? Surely HE remembers his old 835-0147!

Craig Weeks said...

Consider the pertinent facts here, Mrs. O. We moved away from that house when I was ten. So, I was ten or less the whole time and ... AND ... male ... THE WHOLE TIME. So, the phone did not play a big part in my life. So, the attic fan was not an issue.

BTW, do you remember what the "GL" stood for? In eastern Dallas county it was: BR=Broadway, DA=Davis, AT=Atlantic.