An occasional series
The question What Is Local seems to be on my mind quite often lately and something I will be exploring . It is a term we utter quite a bit: the local post office, the local weather, the local time, etc. But many of these terms that we throw around so readily have developed new or expanded meanings. For instance if you are interacting virtually with people on the other side of the world, ‘local time’ is replace by Coordinated Universal Time. But here is one concept of ‘local’ that has not changed, but actually no longer exists at all: The Local Phone Call.
In most homes during the time I grew up (the 1960s), phone calls outside your local area were considered an extravagance and, therefore, only made on rare occasions. Our local area was the city of Philadelphia, and maybe the immediate surrounding suburbs. I recall in the 1990s when the area codes were split up in Southeastern PA and all of the sudden a friend of mine who I called regularly and was considered ‘local’ became out of the calling area. In order to continue talking with her on a ‘local’ call basis, we had to pay a bit extra each month to include the new area code (which was 610).
I remember having a boyfriend in sixth grade who went to his Uncle’s house over a school break. His uncle lived in a town called King of Prussia, a suburb of the city but well outside the local calling area. On one given day, he called me three or four times which was unheard of and became the talk of our family at dinner.
People went to great lengths to not pay for a long distance call. There was the trick that if you were visiting someone far away and wanted your relatives to know you arrived safely, you called collect person- to -person. This means that the person you are calling is not only footing the bill, but the only one who the call with be put through to. So the trick was you would call the operator, give her (it was always a woman) the phone number you wanted to reach and say “I would like to make a collect person-to-person call to…” and you would give the name of your dog or some long lost relative. The operator would convey this message to whoever answered the phone to which the person answering the phone would respond: “No, Theodore isn’t home right now“. The person answering the phone would know you arrived safely and nobody spent a dime, literally.
Aside from the local call aspect, telephone numbers were assigned to such a local degree that the beginning of your phone number (the exchange) would be an indicator of where you lived. Our phone number from my childhood began with CU 9 (Cumberland 9). This was an indicator we lived in the Frankford section of Philadelphia. When I lived in Mayfair when I was older, the exchange DE 5 (Devon/Devonshire 5) was replaced by the numbers 335. A new era.
Not only can you call anyone in the whole country for the same price now, you really have no concept even what state anyone lives in let alone their town or neighborhood. So the ‘local’ phone call? As outdated as the images in this post.