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Dial D for <i> Despair</i> Over a Lost Area Code--and a Way of Life

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Note: California is breaking up. In November, Area Code 213 will split into 310. In November, 1992, Area Code 714 splits into 909. And starting today in the Bay Area, 415 gives rise to 510. What follows are memories of an area code.

Unlike most Californians, I am not an area-code transient.

I was born in Area Code 415, have lived most of my life in Area Code 415, and somehow, expected to die in Area Code 415.

I say this as the phone circuitry on the east side of San Francisco Bay crackles in preparation for today’s switch from 415 to 510. Forty-two percent of the Bay Area’s 3 million 415 residents--including me--will be split off from the 415 mainland along a telecommunications fault line.

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Because of some technocratic logic for solving the problem of growth, I am being placed at long distance from most of my friends, all of my family, my 415 heritage.

I am not going anywhere, but I am being moved. I still live here, but I am being made an outsider.

I despair.

Some things in life you expect to lose--your skate key, your innocence, your baby fat, even, occasionally, your grip. But nothing has prepared me for losing the comfortable three-digit number that has signaled my connectedness to a particular way of life.

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One of three original codes in California--the others were 213 and 916--415 is one of the pleasantest places known to man, woman or telephone. It is bound on the west by the Pacific Ocean, on the east by the hills looking toward the Sierra, on the south by a computer chip firm, on the north by an organic chicken ranch.

Most important, it is, and has been, my home.

I have lived in various 415 cities, but somehow, their names and locations were not that important. They were all part of a greater 415 ethos. Their 415ness was the glue that held them together.

As children, my brother and I lived in the wooded heart of 415-west. We visited one grandmother in stucco-bungalowed 415-east and another in sprawling 415-south. We went Christmas shopping across the bay in the hilly city that has defined the soul of 415 since the code’s inception in 1947.

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In summertime, we visited relatives way up north in 707, a place that smelled like baled hay and hamburger stands, different from the foggy smell of 415. From there, we called home collect.

I moved from 415 only once, to a funky college town two hours south, in 408. All of a sudden, 415 was a place to be away from. But it was still there as a lifeline. When my budgie died, when my Milton professor called me “wrongheaded,” whenever I got the flu, I dialed familiar 415, collect, and everything was OK again.

Soon came my first visit to 212, home of the Empire State Building and incomparable sidewalk pizza, and 415 took on a new meaning. I wasn’t just an outsider visiting the Big City. I was a 415er, denizen of the Gold Coast, doing 212, heart of the Old Coast. The 212ers knew exactly where I lived and thought I must be slightly strange, by virtue of my area code.

But all that changes today when I slip into the terra incognita of 510, a number that doesn’t yet mean a place, have a name or a feel.

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Some people might think it’s silly to mourn the loss of a mere trio of numerals. Things change, places grow, area codes proliferate, people might argue. True, California once had three codes; now it has 11, and that’s the way of progress.

But as a third-generation 415er, I want to know which area codes all the people squeezing me out came from. Then I want them to go home.


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