Before 911 we had 0


There was a time when you dialed ‘0’ for an emergency.  There was none of this 911 stuff.  Just pick up the phone and dial ‘0’.  

The nice lady on the other end would say, “Operator” and you would  say something like, “Get me the police!” Just like in the movies. 

Now, when you dial 911 they say, “911 what is your emergency?” 

Isn’t that an odd thing to say?  I mean I don’t recite my phone number when somebody calls, “312-471-8390, hello?”   (don’t dial that number, it’s not mine.  Really, I made it up).   How did 911 become not only the number, but the identity of the person on the other end? 

Jim Croce called the operator and had an entire conversation with her (I’m assuming it was a her – yes, a bit of a sexist.  Besides, it was the 70’s).  It’s a great song about him trying to find his ‘X’ to let her know he’s alright – even though she ran off with his friend.  Jim is really not alright, and I guess that’s the point of the song.   But my point is that the operator was not only serving as ‘the finder of lost loves’  she also took on the role of counselor and someone to share a thought with.  Just go ahead and try that with one of 911 operators! 

Did I tell you about the time my daughter accidentally dialed 911 on her phone?  There was no chatting or counseling.  I’m not quite sure what happen, but she woke me up to let me know the police were coming.   Four cars showed up at 1 am.  Thankfully I knew the cop that come to the door.  He said it was a slow night so everybody showed up.  Yeah.  That worked out well for me. 

Before caller ID became universal, you really weren’t sure what you were in for.  I mean can you imagine answering your home phone or cell phone and not knowing who is on the other end?  How many times a day do you decide who and when you’ll talk to whom?  You look at the number or the name and think, ‘not now’ or ‘Oh yes!.’   

Not so many years ago we actually answered the phone with some fear and trepidation, not knowing who was on the other end.  OK, fear is a stretch, but certainly there was a bit of anticipation and suspense as you said ‘hello’ and waited for the caller to identify themselves.

Of course when I was a kid, it was a tradition when you were bored and with your buddies, you would make a few prank phone calls.   Occasionally we called someone we knew, but a lot of times we just picked up the phone book and dialed it up.   Nothing original here, we did the classic, ‘is your refrigerator running’ pretty frequently.  And of course we snickered madly, thinking of course that we were comedic geniuses.  

And how ’bout that rotary phone?  Are you old enough to have had one? I can remember trying to dial into the radio station to win some fabulous prize and having to dial a ‘9’ somewhere in the number.  I mean by the time the dial rotated back to the set position, all those push button kids were dialing in for the third time!  I didn’t stand a chance. 

And the phone cord, it was 2 feet when new and hanging from the phone on the wall, but in a couple of weeks that baby was stretched to the max, with the ability to walk to the basement, living room or bathroom with it.  It had to go 30 feet.  Of course my dad would always have a fit, “Don’t stretch the cord! Where you going with that thing!?  Can’t you stand there and talk!?”  OK, come on, you’re 13 years old and Denise gave you her phone number, you’re not going to stand in the kitchen with God and everybody listening in while you call. 

Thank goodness we had a phone in the basement.  I spent a lot of time down there,  hiding out to talk to the girls!  I have no idea what we talked and giggled  and snickered about for all those hours, but I know my ears and jaw were tired after those sessions.  Of course, I relate this exciting stories of my youth to my daughter and she calls me ‘a creeper.’ “Dad, if you are calling people on the phone, you’re like a ‘stalker.’ ”  

Yeah, I’m the ‘creepy stalker.’  Meanwhile, she’s talking to seven people on-line and texting four others.  I guess once you start using your voice, you’ve crossed the line. 

Actually, things really aren’t that much different.   Talk, text, Facebook, Twitter, etc., we all just want to connect.   And that’s what we do – I did it, my daughter does it and her kids will do the same.  They’ll probably communicate through holograms, but either way…we connect.

Remember when we assumed area codes?  There was never a need to tell someone your area code.  your phone number was seven digits – now it’s ten.  you have to dial 10 numbers.  Remember when you only dialed seven?  And what would Tommy Tutone have done with his mega 80’s hit, “867-5309/Jenny”?  It certainly wouldn’t be the same if he sang, “330-8675-309”

Speaking of phone songs, got one more for you- ELO (Electric Light Orchestra) “Telephone Line”  In this song, Jeff Lynn (lead singer) is hoping she’ll pick up the phone, so he can provide some comforting words.   Love this tune!

Not sure what Clark Kent is doing these days, but he’s not using a phone booth and probably couldn’t find a pay phone.   Checking the pay phone for some change was a requirement of walking down the street.  I never found a dime in one of them.  But when you were a kid and you had to call home from the roller rink, the mall or Pizza Hut, you were looking for a pay phone and a quarter.

Ah, the telephone.  What would we do without it?  The technology has come a long way, but it’s use is still the same.  We’re getting together, breaking up, sharing a laugh and a thought – making a connection.  

Call somebody today- get connected and make their day!


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