COLUMN: The blurring line between (218) and (612)

This is my Sunday column for the Aug. 26, 2012 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

The blurring line between (218) and (612)
By Aaron J. Brown

Growing up, we had a phone book back when that really meant something. That’s where the numbers were. You had to know your friend’s dad’s name. If a girl’s dad had a nickname next to his name, like “Chopper” or “Butch” if his real name was “Edward,” you didn’t call that girl. It wasn’t going to work. I lived in a part of America that had one or two “Willinghams” in the phone book but about 100 Ahos and no shortage of Dicklichs. The phone book told you everything.

I am left contemplating area codes after reading a post by Bob Collins on his MPR “News Cut” blog last week. The meaning of an area code is changing.

Near the front cover of that old phone book you’d find a map of our known world, the lower 48 contiguous states of the union, dissected like a jigsaw puzzle. This was the area code map. We knew from kindergarten that we lived in (218). This was as relevant as a congressional district or state or even country. There were really only a few things they forced us to memorize at those tiny tables: Letters, numbers, colors, our names, our addresses and, of vital importance to our safety, our phone numbers. Everyone had different phone numbers, but everyone had the same area code.

I used to wonder who had our phone number over in the other area codes. They were like dimensions. Perhaps there were other versions of me over in (212) or (507) or (815). Perhaps they are still there, having made different life choices. I wonder how much is nurture and how much is nature? Only the other area code versions of me would know.

Here in (218) country, an area code dominated by woods, waters, the Iron Range and Duluth, we have a word for our state’s metropolitan area. Actually we have several, most of them unprintable. But one of them is “612er.” If you see someone with a (612) number, they’re from “down there.” (651) isn’t much better. They’re calling from “down there, up here.” They want to buy our family land and turn it into a tofu refinery. They’ve got shiny teeth and golf clubs and “ha-ha-ha” about that new thing in Minnetonka. They want to force Grandma out of her house because they work for the bank. They’ve got nice cars they can’t fix and rap music and those fancy shirts and we just don’t understand how you can live like that.

But what now? As Collins points out from a Boston Globe story, area codes don’t mean what they used to. More people are using a cell phone as their primary phone. Regulations allow you to keep your number no matter where you go. The large number of phone numbers in use means that area codes are being bisected every year into new, strange numbers that mean nothing.

My sister and brother-in-law moved to Apple Valley, but still have (218) numbers. The piano player in my radio show lives in Zim, where he chops up brush and throws around timbers or who knows what, but he has a (612) number from when he was in college.

There’s that popular “rule” among the kids these days that if you’re dating someone but in a different area code you can run around with new people. Under this rule in these modern times, there might be a 612er jumping the fence of your girlfriend’s house as we speak! Watch out for those (320)s. They’re smooth talkers and big drinkers.

Everyone’s got caller ID, but we still don’t know who’s calling. I’m still a 218er, but the 612ers walk among us. I wish I knew who to call, but all I’ve got is this 800 number that goes to a call center in Mumbai. I guess just send me a letter, so long as they keep my post office open.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and community college instructor from the Iron Range. He writes the blog and hosts 91.7 KAXE’s Great Northern Radio Show on public stations.

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