The Yellow Pages - Factoids and Fun

Posted On: Saturday - March 23rd 2024 1:33PM MST
In Topics: 
  General Stupidity  TV, aka Gov't Media  Humor  History  Americans

See, from earlier, Let your fingers do the walking and The days of the HuWhite pages.

Jim Rockford, up to something or other...

Regular Peak Stupidity readers will know that, from the bygone days of decent TV shows, before I quit the whole TV deal a quarter century ago, The Rockford Files is our favorite. One can find about a dozen posts on the show here. I did my best to find Private Investigator Jim Rockford at a phone booth but also looking through the yellow pages, as he did in a number of scenes. Sorry, no luck yet...

That'd have been perfectly plausible. Though Jim would have had a big 2 or 2 1/2" thick Yellow Pages book back in his trailer, along with the same for the White Pages, I don't think they could have covered all of Los Angeles County (with another for Orange County.) even back in the day with half the people. As Mr. Hail discussed in the comments on both sets of books, business and other activities were generally more local in 50 years-ago America.

What'd you do when you couldn't find that specialized v-belt at the local (probably non-chain, even) auto parts store? You had to work with people, like, YES, talk to them and all and get helpful referrals and that. Maybe you'd have to drive a ways on those LA freeways, and then possibly look up the business for its address and phone # when you got nearby.

By some point, businesses that wanted to go nationwide were able to get "eight hundred numbers", as they were called, i.e. phone numbers starting with 800* in place of an Area Code. This was so that customers would call to begin with, as not many people wanted that Ker-Ching! from the phone company every minute, racking up bills for calls that might have been a waste of time. These nationwide sales companies would pay the charges instead. I assume they got volume discounts.**

Because my Dad was no early adopter of credit cards (before debit cards), or more like, very sane financially, I remember having to call up an 800 for him to order a tennis racket with my CC. Those numbers did the trick before and during the first dozen years of internet commerce, or even the present day for people like me who really just like to get a human on the phone.

There aren't many phone booths left now, but those there are can't have the phone books hanging by a piece of aircraft cable, as in Jim Rockford's day. It'd be a tremendous waste to print them. I do wish I'd accumulated a hundred or more - the neighbors would have helped - before they were a thing of the past. Those things were great for the shooting range. A .22 LR round went only 2/3 through they yellow pages from a foot away. They were great for experimentation.

Now for the couple of stories. Regarding the 1st, the background is that, well, these books came out once a year. If you had a business, you had to arrange for your ad in, say February, or nobody but existing customers, or those from word-of-mouth, were going to beat a path to your door, or at least telephone. To ensure you were serious (I guess), one had to have a "commercial" or "business" line, in order to put an ad in, whether one line, an inch on 1 of 3 columns, or half a page.

Wait, but once your ad was in 10's of thousands of Yellow Page books throughout town, what if you stopped paying? Aha, well, your phone line would be disconnected. Yeah, but some people are too clever by half ... half a page ad, that is. My friend's brother put in that huge ad that must have cost $500 or even thousands monthly back in the day. He paid one month. When he quit paying, they cut off his line... but, he'd put his sister's phone number also in that same ad, so people would do business that way. I assume she was OK with that ...

Then, as seen on The Rockford Files and real life, there were these lazy or not-so-bright people using phone booths that didn't carry writing instruments and paper, or hadn't such a good memory. Instead of writing down or memorizing the number they'd found for 20 seconds, they'd just tear out that portion of the page, White or Yellow pages. It showed a disregard for any future users of that book who might have needed info off that page or the back side. This says something about "a people". Something tells me that it's not something you'd have seen in Germany, Scandinavia, or Japan but more so in Italy or Greece... not in China just due to it being too wretched then to have phone booths, yellow pages***, or phones... yeah, and in Los Angeles, on TV, and knowing the place, in real life.

They showed this sort of behavior on The Rockford Files, and that was humorous and endearing. Then too, at times, while waiting for an answer on the phone, Jim would look up his own PI ad, just to make sure it was still there. He'd see the line-drawing of his face doctored up with, what, a booger hanging from his nose, a doobie in his mouth with smoke curling up, or maybe some disparaging remarks made by one of his competing detectives? I was partial to doodling stubble on the face and John Lennon glasses, myself.

Hey, now you all have smart phones - you can put the call on speaker and surf the whole internet during the call. We had no internet. We had to make do with doodling doobies, boogers, stubble, and John Lennon glasses in the Yellow Pages. It was a different time, you understand ...

* Eventually, there were enough of these numbers assigned - could it really have been in the neighborhood of 8 million? - that the phone companies branched out to 888, 887, 877, etc. (They just couldn't match actual area codes, the number of which would soon expand greatly, what with fax machines first and then mobile phones.)

** You'll still see those numbers around. They must be for legacy land-line-only folks. Otherwise, what's the diff - there's no charge for long distance within the country.

*** I mean, who were you gonna call, the Communist Party, the feed corn ration card office, or the nearest commune?

Tuesday - March 26th 2024 6:32PM MST
PS: "Between the two books there were 35 pages of “Anderson’s”! And that doesn’t include the “en’s “!" Dang! That's one big tribe, really, or 2 tribes, the sons and the sens, all from Scandinavia, I suppose. Your old home is getting pounded with a decent amount of snow, BTW.

About the area codes, yeah, only the inner big city people, and I guess there it's Minneapolis, have the basic area codes with the "0" or "1" in the middle That was the old standard. People like to keep their mobile phones that have the old standards too.
Tuesday - March 26th 2024 8:06AM MST
PS Phonebook errata….

Growing up there was one phone book for St. Paul, one for Minneapolis, each had a white pages and a yellow pages section. Both were area code 612; St. Paul is now 651

Wilson Library at the U of Minnesota used to have old phone books going back years- interesting stuff.

Between the two books there were 35 pages of “Anderson’s”! And that doesn’t include the “en’s “!
Sunday - March 24th 2024 10:19AM MST
PS It was a different time. Boy, is that ever the truth.
Saturday - March 23rd 2024 3:46PM MST
PS: I remember one would get a small charge on his bill for the use of 411 - "Information, please...*", Alarmist. What happened when you dialed that from a pay phone? Were more dimes required?

Speaking of pay phones, there are some more fun things to discuss there too.

* "Help me get in touch with my Marie, in Memphis, Tennessee..."
The Alarmist
Saturday - March 23rd 2024 3:34PM MST

Makes me wistful for my old 305 and 212 numbers. Glad I had a photographic memory back in the day, because very few phone booths around me had phone books ... dial 411 is probably the result of that.
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