Ring out the old, ring in the nuisance

April 17, 1997|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,SUN STAFF

ACCORDING TO Bell Atlantic, we're going to be having a whole lot of fun here in the great state of Maryland starting May 1.

Because as of that day, we'll have to dial both the area code and the number when making a local phone call.

Me, I actually thought the whole thing was going to be a hassle.

hTC But then my 5-year-old came home from school with a snappy booklet from Bell Atlantic titled "Phone Fun!"

Subtitled "The Ten-number Number Coloring Book," it had a drawing of a smiling telephone on the cover.

Inside, the new system for dialing local calls was explained in the kind of chirpy, didactic prose you find in either elementary school texts or cult handbooks. ("And you'll use the Ten-number Number to call your next-door neighbor . . . your aunt across the street and your classmate two blocks away.")

The writing also was illustrated with drawings of lots of people smiling.

Kids were smiling. Moms were smiling. Dads were smiling. Grandmas were smiling. Everyone was smiling that eerie Martha-Raye-for-Polident smile, the kind of smile that makes you think: How can anyone get this worked up about a denture cleanser?

So apparently dialing 10 numbers instead of seven on local calls will be a really neat thing to do.

And apparently we should all be looking forward to doing it.

Personally, I'm hoping this kind of positive spin on a potentially negative situation catches on.

For instance, people involved in the criminal justice system might receive a booklet called, "So You're Off to the Slammer!":

"Meet new people! Do you enjoy lifting weights? Our exercise yard is the best around -- sorry, hours limited! Is your life rush, rush, rush? There's plenty of time here for reflection and contemplation!

"Try our tuna melt! Served four days a week!"

Or a man going through a divorce might be mailed a booklet called, "Your Wife Left You!":

"Hey, fella, why so down? OK, she's gone! But that doesn't mean you spend your life standing and eating cold Spaghetti-O's at the kitchen counter while watching "The Simpsons" on a small black-and-white TV!

"There's plenty to do out there! For starters, when's the last time you did a load of laundry? It's fun and a lot easier than you think!"

Then again, you can't really blame Bell Atlantic for attempting a pre-emptive PR strike on this issue.

People will complain about anything, especially if, God forbid, it involves a little more work on their part.

So I expect you'll hear a good deal of whining about the new system for dialing local calls.

Look, I know people . . . OK, mostly guys . . . OK, mostly fat guys, who freak out when they can't find the remote, because it means they have to stand up and actually walk three feet to change the channel.

To people like this, dialing an additional three numbers on a local call is like breaking rocks in the hot sun.

Anyway, the official reason for this change in local dialing is that we're running out of phone numbers, what with all the car phones, fax machines and computer modems in use today.

At the risk of sounding terribly retro, no one under the rank of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff really needs a car phone.

People give you this song and dance about how they need their car phone for business purposes, for emergency use if they break down, to keep tabs on their kids after school, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Then you find out the only thing they use the car phone for is to order pizza on the ride home from work Friday night.

Or to call Blockbuster Video to see if one of Jim Carrey's stupid movies is out yet.

(This, by the way, is my enduring nightmare: I'm rear-ended on the Beltway by a GEO Tracker driven by some 19-year-old on a car phone beered up on Bud Light and giggling over "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective" with his buddy.

In any event, my question to the phone company is this: What are we going to do five years from now when the technology boom kicks into overdrive and we run out of phone numbers again?

Are we going to use logarithms?

Square roots?

Me, I see another booklet coming: "Good Times With Exponential Functions and Numerical Factors!"

Pub Date: 4/17/97

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