Pizza’s Here! Why Area Codes Matter, Play-ah.

I have encountered this problem before.  And every time I do I find myself laughing at that little part of our common human nature that causes us to skip the details when we think we know the outcome.

Alas 201, what has become of ye?

Alas 201, what has become of ye?

I grew up in Northern New Jersey.  When I was a kid our home phone — you know, the kind that had a coiled cord connecting it to a base? — had a 201 area code.  This really was inconsequential to us as, when I was a kid, we did not actually use the area code.  Those three digits were reserved for making long distance calls — like to another area code.  Before I bore you with the rest of my story, I’d like to bore you with another story.  Fun fact: area codes were invented in New Jersey.  Bell Labs was (and essentially still is) headquartered in a little town called Basking Ridge about twenty miles from where I grew up.  With the advent of direct dialing (i. e., not requiring an operator to place the call), Bell began experimenting with adding an additional code as a prefix to the seven digit number.  The area code would be used only when calling a phone in a different area from the caller such that when you dialed your next door neighbor you would just dial seven digits; but when you dialed a neighboring state you might be calling the same exact number just with a different area code.  The geniuses out in Basking Ridge decided to establish a system whereby the middle digit in the area code would be either a 0 or a 1.  For some reason they could not start a 1.  Obvious additional combinations such as “411” and “611” were out as they were already in use by the phone company for information and phone repair respectively.  With that in mind, and going in sequence, the first code out of the box was to be “201” which was assigned to the entire state of New Jersey, home of Bell Labs.

By the time I was in college, the more populous parts of these United States had seen their area codes halved and quartered in area to make way for the growing need for more phone numbers (fax machines, computer modems, etc.)  We saw our beloved 201 taken away from us and pushed into a tiny corner of the state covering Bergen and Hudson Counties.  We were given the consolation prize of “973”.  By this time the original 144 possible three digit combinations following the above rules had been exhausted and the phone guys were forced to start allowing additional middle digits.  Many of us wanted to give them a particular middle digit right back at them.  We were proud of 201.  Now we were reduced to 973.  But over time, we got used to it.  Hey, at least it wasn’t 908.  Things got really bizarre when they started overlaying the codes so that a caller could no longer trust that three digits always meant a particular area.  Finally, the federal government legislated number portability to accommodate all of us cell phone users who wanted not to have to change our phone numbers every time we switched carriers.  This leads me to my story.

True, it’s not 201 but I’ve been fond of my 973 number for some time.  I kept it when we moved to Virginia and I kept it when we moved to Texas.  Unfortunately, the place where we moved has a little quirky problem.  They have a 972 area code.  Imagine how obnoxious this is.  I go into CVS or Walgreens.  The clerk asks if I have a rewards card and I say “Not on me.”  “Oh,” he replies, “just give me your phone number.”  I raise one eyebrow.  “Why?  Don’t you see my wedding ring?  It would never work.  I’m sure you’re a nice man and all but the fact remains that I’m married.  And you’re a dude.”  “No sire,” he replies.  “Although you will later write a blog about this and purposely leave a typo in place to make it look like I called you ‘sire’, your number will access your rewards.”  “Ah…” I reply.  “Have at it, my liege.  It’s 9-7-3-XXX-XXXX”.  And then I watch as he punches in the numbers 9-7-2.

“STOP right there you punk!”  He jumps.  “Is a 2 a 3?”  Puzzled, he frantically searches for the key marked ‘DEL’ and asks me to state my number again.

Recently we had several snow days at work.  Ice days, really.  Although I found out about the closures through other means I began to wonder why I was the only one of my colleagues who hadn’t received the emergency alert phone call.  I emailed the IT guy at work.  He promptly shot back to me “My log shows”  — Sorry, that line makes me laugh. — “My log shows that we did reach you on three different occasions.  One time you picked up and the other two went to an answering machine.”  As if to prove his brilliance he included a screenshot of the log in question.  To him I replied “OK 1) answering machine?  Really?  Is this 1987? and 2) you didn’t reach me.  But whomever you called at 9-7-2-XXX-XXXX was certainly made aware that our school was closed.”  Genius.

I suppose I could change it.  I could conform.  I could sell out.


Good pizza.  Wrong number.

Good pizza. Wrong number.

Tonight, come to think of it, the original story about the pizza really doesn’t relate to this topic too well.  I’ll tell it anyway.  If you feel like leaving now I won’t be offended much.  That’s a lie.  Stick with me.  It’s fun.  Like letting a giraffe drive a Mini Cooper.  Tonight, my phone rang repeatedly.  The screen showed the call was coming from “973” but I did not recognize the number.  On the third try in a row I answered.  The voice on the other end spoke in broken English.  “Hello?  You order Domino’s Pizza?”  I didn’t even know how to respond to this one.  “Um, no.”  “Somebody at this number order Domino’s and I outside.  You sure you no order Do-mi-no’s” he said while actually singing the company’s name at the end.  This was so strange.  “Where are you?” I asked.  He gave me the address.  “If you let me in, I give you pizza…” he said.  “OK, I didn’t order piz-zzzzaaaaa,” I replied.  “And I’m in Tex-asssssss.”  The singing on the other end stopped.  “Huh?” he said.

“My friend,” I said, “You’re at my sister’s house and I guarantee she typed my number into the box when she ordered online because we had just been on the phone.  I’ll call her and tell her to let you in.”

See, it was a funny story, right?

But man that pizza sounded good…  Damn you 973!

3 responses to “Pizza’s Here! Why Area Codes Matter, Play-ah.

  1. The pizza was good and so were the breadsticks with cinnamon and frosting. Yum yum

  2. Hah-hah! Can you imagine the tip you would have had to give the delivery guy if he’d driven the pizza all the way from NJ to your house! Your
    family is so funny! Merry Christmas to all!

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