Moving West: remember party lines?

September 9, 2015

Back in the flamesof Pacific Hell!Chapter 6
Remember party lines?

At the end of the last chapter, the boxes were piling up and I had begun to unpack, not knowing what I’d find because Bob got tired of specifying rooms and began labeling all of the boxes “Misc.”

Meanwhile, in one of the boxes, we actually found a phone. Triumphantly, we plugged it in and found we had a dial tone. Hey! Great!!

But…what was our phone number?

I called Pac Bell.

“We don’t show you as having phone service yet,” they told me.

“Well, I’m talking to you from my house,” I said. “Can you at least tell me what number I’m calling from?”

“No, we don’t have that capability,” I was told.

giant-caller-id“But you’re the phone company…” I started. “You mean you can’t even tell me what number I’m calling you from?”  This was back in the days before Caller ID was available to everyone.

I paused. “I’ll bet if I called 911 they could tell me.”

I was put on terminal hold while they figured out what to do. Meanwhile, I considered whether I’d be arrested if I called 911 and asked them to read my phone number back.

A half hour later, Pac Bell concluded we did NOT have phone service, even though I was talking to them on a land line in our house.

I was beginning to think everything people in other parts of the country thought about California was true.

Bob’s son, R., had been listening to this with great interest, as he helped his dad move boxes. He had what turned out to be a brilliant suggestion.

“My paranoid roommate has Caller ID,” he said. “When I get home, I’ll call you on the cell. You call me back on the land line and I’ll tell you your phone number.”

That boy was definitely smart. A brilliant solution.

An hour later I had a phone number in my hand.
“But,” R cautioned. “It shows up as registered to Gonsales and Rivera.”

I didn’t care—I had a phone, a dial tone AND a phone number.

Now, we needed a phone book. Yes, yes, there was a day in the not tooo distant past when we actually used phone books.

Bob called Pacific Bell and was told that phone books were at grocery stores now, like Safeway and Lucky. Ok. Easy enough.

phone book

This is what a phone book looked like. Back in the day.

At multiple Safeways, he was told that there weren’t any more and hadn’t been for a long time.
He looked hard for Luckys, but they were all long gone, acquired by Albertson’s, a fact the phone company didn’t seem to know.
At Albertson’s he was told that they had never heard of phone books being at grocery stores.
At the Pacific Bell payment office, where they are happy enough to take your money, he was told phone books were at libraries.
At the library, the clerk looked at him blankly.

He came home and called Pac Hell again. Now he had an 800 # to call to order phone books. It would take between 15 and 30 working days to get one.

I smiled and went to look for the cats’ Valium.

Just then, the land line rang.
“May I speak to Michelle?” the caller asked.
“No Michelle here,” I started to say.
A voice interrupted me.
“This is Michelle!”

I looked around. I saw no Michelle in the house.
“Who are you?” I asked. “And where are you?”
“This is my phone number, in my house, it just rang!” she said.
“It just rang here, too,” I said.

Sure enough, our lines were crossed. We were sharing a line. Here I was in Silicon Valley, the center of the technical universe, ground zero of the telecommunications revolution, and the only service I could get was a party line.

Oh, you don’t remember party lines? You could pay less if  you didn’t have your own phone line. You had your own number but you shared the line with a few neighbors. They’d have to be off the phone for you to use it. I think party lines went away in the early 1960s.

I called Pac Hell.
“I didn’t order a party line,” I pointed out.
“We don’t have party lines any more,” the rep told me.
“You do now,” I replied.
“And you don’t have phone service,” she explained.

She promised a tech would be out that day.

Looking for the earlier chapters?

Preface: Moving on by moving

Chapter 1: Packing–how hard could it be?

Chapter 2: The adaptability of cats

Chapter 3: Exiled to Pacific Hell

Chapter 4: Hansel & Gretel’s cottage

Chapter 5: Creative solutions

19 comments on “Moving West: remember party lines?
  1. it never really changes – it used to be phones, now it’s computers, or internet connections – and the wait is even longer!

  2. I’m still laughing Carol. What a story!

  3. Sheryl says:

    And the saga continues…such a funny story. I love your new name for PacBell! And yes, I so remember party known as conference calls 🙂

  4. It’s amazing that any company would be that clueless and then for it to be a communications company that is even worse. I remember party lines we had one in the 70’s made for all kinds of interesting listening when I was little.

  5. I do remember party lines! Only in my case it belonged to my Aunt, Uncle and cousin. Something tells me it wasn’t worth the savings either. Great story!

  6. Hysterical, Carol. When things go south, they go all the way, don’t they? Your tale is reminiscent of Abbott & Costello’s classic “Who’s on First?” It also reminds me I need to write about my American Express story. Grrrr….. xoxox, Brenda

  7. PatU says:

    Ha! Ya think THAT’S bad, try moving to Mexico! And no, Guadalajara is not near Albuquerque.

  8. Diane says:

    Party lines of my memory were much more entertaining.

  9. Jennifer says:

    Hiarious! I remember party lines. I also remember my mother scolding my brothers and I to NEVER listen in when “they” were using the phone line!

  10. adela says:

    That is so funny. I wonder if Michelle is Gonzolese or Rivera.

  11. Haralee says:

    One more challenge! I remember party lines and when lines got crossed and you heard someone on your phone!

  12. Too funny. We no longer have land line service but still have the land line in the home. About two years ago, the one phone still connected (a reproduction old time phone, so we leave it as decoration) started ringing. Then it did later. And a few days after. Finally, I answered… and realized we had somehow been included on a party line for some reason. Was quite freaky at first as our house seems haunted anyway and this seemed yet another spooky incident. Alas, no. Just the numb skull phone company.

  13. OMG. This is hilarious!!! I. Can’t. Even. So someone just told me my life is a Seinfeld episode and I think you just joined me. I am dying at how absurd this whole story is . So……good luck with your land line and your new friend, Michelle!!! Love it!

  14. That’s just so funny! I especially like how the boxes stopped being labelled and all became misc – that is so me! Well, it’s probably so EVERYONE! How did people manage with party lines? Did people go banging on doors telling neighbours to get off the phone if they were hogging the line? How times change. Great story.

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