If there is a printed version of comfort food, it must be the phone book. What I really like most is the crisp pages, the smell of ground pulp, the thousands of names, tiny fonts and no internet addresses. And no “@,” “dots” or underscores.
For a writer or researcher, phone books are precious.
The Seaside Museum and History Center has some classics. They are a remarkable history tool. I may be giving out a trade secret, but when you want to add sparkle to your history paper, read a phone book. You never know what you’ll find — including a cast of characters for your next screenplay.
Phone numbers have been an inspiration for Hollywood and Tin Pan Alley for decades.
There’s swing bandleader Glenn Miller’s “PEnnsylvania 6-5000” — with band members shouting out the phone number every chorus.
Remember the film “Butterfield 8” starring Elizabeth Taylor as a troubled party girl? Author John O’Hara’s title was named for a phone exchange.
I give credit to a name-tag wearing friend at a recent Seaside event. She identified herself as “867-5309” — “Jenny,” readily identifiable to anyone who remembers the 1981 hit by Tommy Tutone.
Didn’t you hate it when Hollywood films eliminated using “real” phone numbers and made everybody’s number start with “555”? I get it, but it still takes me beyond the fourth wall.
Even area codes aren’t what they used to be. In L.A. people would pay a premium for a “213,” including some movie nabobs who wouldn’t move to the Valley because of the dreaded “818” area code. Likewise, Manhattanites reveled under the magic of “212” and recoiled from “646” and “917.”
It used to be everyone in Oregon could unite under “503.” Now you may be “541,” “971” or “458” — or any other prefix used on a digital network.
Ever wonder what Seaside’s “738” exchange stands for? Intuitively, it would seem the first two digits would stand for “Seaside.” Not so. Jeff Ter Har helped me out with this one — it’s REdfield-8.
With the advent of rail, by the late 19th century, Seaside was building up as a summer tourism destination.
When telegraph and long distance telephone came in, the combined population of Seaside and West Seaside — on opposite sides of the Necanicum — was 500, with a summer population bulging to 10,000.
The Seaside Museum and Historical Society has a representative selection of phone books, including a 1902 guide printed in Astoria listing county businesses: “An alphabetically arranged list of business firms, private citizens and public institutions.”
In 1906, Seaside saw the installation of a telephone exchange and electric light plan.
Most phone people didn’t actually dial a phone until decades later — calls were operator assisted. “If you call by number, you’ll have faster service,” reads a tip from a 1940s phone book. “You’ll save time, and calling by number means better service for everyone.”
Local phone book publisher Margaret D. Beacon provided what amounted to a visitor’s guide to Seaside.
“Nearly all of our guests from time to time request information of some sort — where to find cottages or hotel accommodations, where to go, what to see, ‘Can you tell me where John Doe lives?’ and other kindred questions,” Beacon wrote in the 1944 edition.
In the years long before 911, Seaside’s January 1953 telephone directory offered these emergency instructions: “Call or dial ‘Operator’ and say: “I want to report a fire,” and “I want the police.”
You could even get the time of day from the operator, although it would cost you the price of a local call.
Even into recent history, the dreaded party line was a fact of life.
No, it was no party — as someone who experienced this while living in a rural region in the 1980s — it was a shared line that could be interrupted by your shared linemate at any time.
The phone company provided guidance: “Space your calls instead of making a whole series of them,” advised Cowboy Clem, the Smokey Bear. “And talk only as long as necessary.”
Keep kids away from party lines, Clem added. “Ask them to be considerate, too.”
But who was it that asked me, where does Clark Kent change now that there are no phone booths out there? It’s not like he’s going to go into the changing room at The Gap. Or is he?
The outlook for the phone booth industry “looks bleak,” CNN commented in a March 2018 story. From a high of 2 million phone booths in 1999, that number had shrunk to a mere 100,000, with about a fifth of those in New York, according to the Federal Communications Commission.
How many Seasiders recall the September day in 1996 when the city “awoke with a blast” at the corner of North Holladay and First Avenue was blown up?
Seaside Police Chief Ken Almberg at the time said the device used in the 3 a.m. bombing was black explosive powder packed in paper tubing. The detonation blew glass 50 feet in every direction.
Fortunately no one was hurt.
“It’s unusual to have one damaged in this way,” Jim Haynes a spokesman for the phone booth company, U.S. West, told the Signal at the time.
The telephone itself, he added, was still functioning after the blast.
A 17-year-old male seen near the scene was identified as a suspect. He was taken to the Seaside police station for questioning and then released to his mother.
Hopefully he has adapted to the cell phone era with less hostility.
During a recent stroll, I was startled out of my reverie by the phone booth still standing on Avenue C and Columbia.
I poked my head inside ... unfortunately the phone is no longer there.
And what would you expect?