I started this blog to talk about memories. As I get older and the world keeps getting faster and more demanding, I find myself losing more of the memories that I had. I thought this blog would be a good way to remember those things, but I soon had my mind occupied with my job and my health. I lost my will to write and had no time to write, so where does that leave me?
Recently I was in Goodwill looking at the items they had for sale when I ran into something odd. It was a tiny sculpture of a mountain range in wood with some little plastic sticks protruding out of it. On the front was a plaque commemorating the removal of the last party line by C&P Bell. I think the little plastic sticks may have been phone line poles at one point and the bars and wires had been cut or broken off years ago.
I got to thinking back to the old rotary phone my mom used to have. She had been on a party line prior to my birth because it was cheaper and my dad was always looking to save money. Once I was born and he died, my mom quickly had us switched to a private line. A party line was pretty common in the old days. Two or three families would actually share the same line and each family had a different ring for their calls. These weren’t ringtones mind you. Family A might have a ring that was three short bells, family B might have a ring that was one long bell, and family C might have a ring that was two medium bells. You listened for the phone to ring and then listened to hear which ring you actually heard. If you picked up the phone to make a call and someone was on the line, you were supposed to hang up and wait. Of course some nosey neighbors might forget about the hanging up part and just listen in on your calls.
My wife and I got to talking about some of the changes phone service had went through since our childhood. I mentioned person to person calling which she was not really familiar with. The way that worked was a person would place a call by dialing the operator and telling them that they wished to call a specific person at a certain number. The operator would dial the number and then ask for that person. If they were there, the operator would connect the call and you would be charged an additional fee for the call. If they were not there, then the operator would thank them, hang up and then inform you that your party was not there and there was no charge. People going on long trips often used this as a way to let someone back home know that they had arrived safely. They would make a person to person call but either the person on the receiving end would know that was the signal, or they would ask to speak to their self at that number which also signaled the other person that they had arrived safely. Collect calls were often used the same way.
The subject of collect calls brought up 1-800-COLLECT, 1-800-CALL ATT and other similar services. I don’t know if these companies are still in business. I’m also doubtful about the continued existence of the programs that used to have you dial a long string of numbers before you place your call to connect at a reduced rate.
Of course rotary phones are a thing or the past now as well. And unlike the old days when you leased your phone from Ms Bell because it was illegal for a person to actually own their own telephone, all phone service is digital and most of it is cellular. I remember my friend that got a car phone in the 80s. The thing had a case the size of a shoebox that had to be plugged in to the cigarette lighter for power and the car had to have a special antennae as well.
Of course with the proliferation of cell phones these days, the era of the payphone and phone booth are nearly at an end. I got to thinking back to a song by Garth Brooks called Baton Rouge. It’s about a trucker in love with a girl and he keeps “stopping ever hundred miles, calling Baton Rouge”. Nowadays he’d have his bluetooth in and they could talk the whole trip if they really wanted to.
I actually miss the old days of the tethered phone that weighed several pounds and required you to know or look up the number of anyone you wanted to call. And if you decided to leave town for the weekend, your phone calls didn’t follow you.