You're from New Jersey? What area code?

By Anthony Buccino

TBT 1996

2018: South Jersey to share 609/640 area code in August

What area code?

It’s gonna’ cost businesses big bucks for the hassle to deal with the Board of Public Utilities’ decision to add two new area codes to New Jersey beloved codes, 201, 908 and 609.

Even comedy writers like our beloved Uncle Floyd Vivino will have to rework the old saw, “You’re from New Jersey, what exit?” into the more hip, “You’re from Jersey, what area code?”

Crowded sky - telephone wires slice horizon by anthony buccinoIf you don’t get it now, you will. Oh, boy, will you get it. In the five years it took to nearly get used to having an area code between ours and 609, the government, in collusion with the telephone companies, say they’ve used up all the numbers.

The Board of Public Utilities has been mulling the area code decision for months and months and its solution is to split the 908 and 201 area codes and create two new area codes.

The BPU has decided in its infinite wisdom to give our beloved 2-0-1 area code to Bergen County and force us to share a new area code with Morris and Sussex counties.

That means they are going to give me a new area code, and in a few years assign my old phone number and area code to someone else, who will keep it until they take it away from him and give him a new area code and the circle goes round and round, whoa, whoa, and comes out your ear, so to speak.

Not that we are likely to have called those expensive pay-per-minute phone services, but our new 9-7-3 area code sounds like a number we could call to have psychics predict our next local election.

Or failing that, we seem to be getting an area code similar to the 900 sex-lines, lottery results, crossword puzzle solutions, and cable movies.

The phone companies argue that the area code splits are necessary because they are running out of numbers because of the explosion in demand by beepers, faxes, cell phones and Mid-Eastern terrorists.

NJ Bell telephone personal pocket directory - buccinoIf anyone should have enough phone numbers to last, it should be the phone companies. After all, they have all the phone numbers, don’t they?

This must have something to do with deregulation of the phone companies a few years back. That was supposed to lower our phone bill and make the phone companies more competitive. It doesn’t seem to have worked for little guys.

For instance, about two years ago my child got a phone card that allowed her to call home from anywhere and the charges would be reversed. It was going along swell until she happened to use a public phone owned by the Jesse James Phone Company.

That company charged more than $5 for each collect call.

That may seem reasonable to you, but it was from within town to home. It would have cost less to have her shoot off an emergency boat flare to signal that she was ready to come home.

And, of course, that was the first time I ever heard of the Board of Public Utilities. Remember them from the beginning of this tirade? In a way that only the government could, it deregulated the phone companies but left a bureaucracy in charge of it.

New Jersey Bell Telephone Company want ad, December 1946Now the only thing the BPU seems to do is investigate claims of overcharged patrons and meet for years and years to say, “Hey, we’re running out of numbers. We better think up some new area codes, quick!”

The bureaucrats already tell us that the addition of the new area codes will only last a short time, in government-ese, that means you’ll still be alive when we have to go through this again.

Typically, the bureaucrats want to please everyone so they end up pleasing no one.

A bold move would be to give every town its own area code. That should hold them until I cast off this mortal coil. In government style compromise, another solution would be to issue each county its own area code.

In the case of 609-ers in way-south Jersey, split them up too. Just because no one lives there, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have a lot of area codes too. (This was done in the new millennium.)

For now, give Bergen, Essex, Hudson and Morris their own area codes. The western part of the state, Sussex, Hunterdon and Warren counties, all can share one area code for now, but not 201. That’s mine. Then, as the need arises, as the population moves west, those western counties can then be assigned their own area codes.

Also, cellular phones should have their own area codes separate from the counties. People who have cell phones are always moving around, so what should they care what their area code is anyway. It’s not like it costs you more or less to call another area code anymore.

Or does it? Who can tell anything anymore with pages and pages of phone bill? But, of course, we do notice a federal tax and a line that says surcharges and taxes.

Hey, they don’t even tell you what the tax or the surcharge is. They just add it to the bill. And like a dolt, we pay, and pay.

By the way, on my phone bill there are five more digits to the right of my phone number. Are they trying to tell me something?

Old fashioned telephone with DialWhat happened to the people who used to run the phone company? You know, back when everything worked just fine and nobody owned their own phones . . . aw, heck, yeah, we used to use our fingers to dial. Help me, I’m getting maudlin about telephones!

If the government wanted to make any money, it should charge the phone companies for each new phone number issued. Of course, it could give them a credit when a phone number is discontinued.

After all, what is a new number worth to you? As for the Jesse James Phone Company, when they charge more than five bucks for a local call, imagine what they would charge for a new number entirely? Phew!

It used to be so easy calling grandma at H-U-mbolt whatever, or this aunt at N-O-something, or that aunt at P-I-something, and you could always reach me at P-L-ymouth-9-whatever.

If you remember the Opie show, he is my age, my hero, it was his show, when they cranked the wall phone and called the operator by name, and told the operator who they wanted to talk to, and sometimes the operator told the caller that the callee was out visitin’ kinfolk in Hooterville or Pixley. Now that’s a phone company.

So, we don’t have to crank the phone to generate a phone call. We simply pick it up and use it to call kinfolk in Ashtabula, six minutes for $1.08, or wait for it to ring with our daughter calling us collect and telling us everything is OK in Spain, six minutes at $14.44, or France, six minutes at $13.79, or Italy, six minutes at $12.58.

The scary one is the one-minute collect call from the pay phone in that gas station near the high school that costs more than $2.50 a word for her to tell us in two words, “I’m done,” that she needs a ride home.

She’s not the only one that’s done. We’ve got to get started on those new business cards, and stationery, and don’t forget fixing all those Rolodex cards, and the automatic computer-fax dialers.

This new area code business means business for some folks, while other folks, like you and me, just get the business.

Don’t call me, I’ll call you. Better yet, we’ll just load the family and Labrador retrievers in the minivan and head on over to visit you and the kinfolk as we explore the wild terrain of the new area code land.

First published in Worrall Community Newspapers on November 7, 1996 as  You're from New Jersey, what area code?

Adapted from RAMBLING ROUND  Inside and Outside at the Same Time


Anthony Buccino





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New Jersey author Anthony Buccino's stories of the 1960s, transit coverage and other writings earned four Society of Professional Journalists Excellence in Journalism awards.

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