On Friday, Baltimore will undergo a change unlike any other in its history.
The citizens of the metropolitan area, along with others in the eastern portion of the state, will be stripped of their beloved 301 area code and will have area code 410 rammed down their throats.
In order to help in what promises to be a chaotic transition, I introduce a new feature: Ask Dr. Telephone!
Dear Dr. Telephone: I live in Baltimore and am worried that many people will confuse Baltimore's new 410 area code with Rhode Island's 401 area code. Is this likely to happen?
ANSWER: Yes, but don't worry. C&P Telephone is arranging for BTC people in Rhode Island to take messages for us.
Dear Dr. Telephone: What if I make a mistake and dial 301 when I want 410?
ANSWER: For a year, you will be able to use the wrong area code and still get through to 410. But after Nov. 1, 1992, you will have to come up with the right code in order to place the call.
And after that date, if you use the wrong area code three times in a row, C&P is authorized to confiscate your dialing finger.
Dear Dr. Telephone: Isn't it true that Anne Arundel, Howard, Frederick and Carroll counties will have both area codes? What can we do?
ANSWER: Easy. Don't call anybody in Anne Arundel, Howard, Frederick or Carroll counties.
Dear Dr. Telephone: I remember the greats who used 301. I remember Frank and Brooks, Jim Palmer, Belanger, Gentile and Pappas. I remember Unitas and Moore and Matte and Ameche. I remember summer vacations with my dad teaching me how to dial my first 301 call from out of state. I remember the saga of America. Sure, they promise us a new area code with fancy sky boxes and more parking. But the beer will cost $4 and it will never be the same. Baltimore will never be the same. Nothing will ever be the same. Our lives are but dust in the wind. I tear my hair. I rend my clothes. I weep.
ANSWER: Please send $16.95 for my 32-page, full-color commemorative booklet: "Area Code 301: Days of Hope, Days of Glory." The first 500 people who order also will get a free set of "Kiss Me, I Used to Be in Area Code 301" bar coasters.
Dear Dr. Telephone: I don't get it. They say we need a new area code because we are running out of numbers, but every school child knows that in order to get more numbers, all you have to do is add a zero to the end. What gives?
ANSWER: Normally you would be correct. But in Maryland, Gov. Schaefer sold the state's extra numbers to finance his lavish mansion renovation. And next month he plans to spell out on the lawn in pearls his personal motto: "Veni, Vidi, Arboricide." I Came, I Saw, I Chopped Down All the Trees.
Dear Dr. Telephone: Since area codes have only three digits, and since the rules eliminate certain combinations -- the second digit must be a zero or a one, the codes cannot start with zero or one and certain numbers like 800 and 900 are taken for special services -- won't we soon run out of area codes?
ANSWER: Yes. Only 152 area codes currently exist. And on Saturday, when Los Angeles adds area code 310 to become the first metropolitan area to have three area codes, there will be only three unallocated area codes left in the nation: 210, 810 and 910.
And these won't last long.
Which is why in July 1995, phone calling all over the nation is scheduled to change once again. And people may have to dial 11 digits for both local and long-distance calls.
Solution? Improve your letter-writing skills.
Dear Dr. Telephone: Who played Lumpy on "Leave it to Beaver"?
Answer: Frank Bank. But, please, telephone questions only.
Dear Dr. Telephone: I am told we have this problem because people are using up telephone numbers for fax machines, mobile phones and paging devices. But most people who use those things live in the ritzy suburbs of Washington, D.C. Yet those people get to keep area code 301, while the people in Baltimore have to give it up. What gives?
ANSWER: While it is true that Maryland suburbs like Potomac, Chevy Chase and Bethesda have a very high degree of extra phone number use, most people there do not dial their own phones. They have their servants do it for them. Some of these servants come from exotic places like France and Sweden and C&P would have had to hire translators to teach them a new area code. Therefore, it was decided to screw Baltimore instead. In Maryland, this has become a tradition.
Dear Dr. Telephone: How come we didn't have problems like this the old days?
ANSWER: In the old days, we had a monopoly. It went by the name AT&T or Ma Bell or The Phone Company. It made phones, installed phones, repaired phones. In exchange for this monopoly, it provided a communications system for America that was the envy of the world.
Naturally, this could not be allowed to continue.
So in 1983, federal Judge Harold H. Greene ordered that AT&T be broken up. Which means that today you don't really know how to get your phone fixed, what a "line fee" is, or why your telephone is made by a company in Cambodia and picks up your neighbor's kitchen radio.
We call this progress.
Dear Dr. Telephone: Can things get any worse?
ANSWER: Yes. A federal judge could break up the electric power monopoly next. And by this time next year, you might have to buy your electricity in grocery stores and carry it home in specially insulated thermos bottles.
So take my advice: Stock up now.