Good morning, (202) Washingtonians, and all you loyal readers out there in (301) Maryland and (703) Northern Virginia. Whoops! Don't want to forget the rest of you in (804) southern Virginia, in (302) Delaware, in (609) southern New Jersey or down there in sunny (919) North Carolina.
Hope your smile is as wide as the (602) Grand Canyon, and your spirits are as high and handsome as the (915) West Texas sky. Me? As the saying goes, I've made other plans.
I'm sulking, you see, and the reason is that frequent source of sulks: the telephone company. In four days, I'm not going to be able to make a local call around the (202) Washington area without dialing the area code first. Neither are the rest of you lucky local devils.
That means that if I'm in a phone booth in (202) Georgetown, and I'm trying to call (703) Rosslyn, I have to use the area code before I can get through, even if I can look across the Key Bridge and see the building I'm trying to call.
That means that if I live in (301) Chevy Chase, Md., and I want to see what's playing at a movie theater in (202) Chevy Chase, D.C., just a few baby steps across Western Avenue, I have to use the area code before I can find out.
That means that anytime I want to call my office from the airport, or the airport from my office, or my dentist when I'm at my local public library, or place any silly little local call that happens to cross a silly little border, I have to remember three more numbers than I used to have to remember.
Who's going to give me the extra brain capacity? Radio Shack? Ma Bell? Judge Harold Greene?
Worse yet, if I forget to use area-code-first, I'll get a recording telling me to try again.
Just what I need. Another recording by that ubiquitous, computerized woman with the tinny voice.
She probably never forgets anything, least of all area-code-first. She probably even has spare pages in her address book where she can write down all these area codes she'll soon have to use. The rest of us are not as resourceful.
Unsurprisingly, the phone company blames the area-code-for-local-calls policy on you and me, not on itself.
There are so many more people in the (202, 301, 703) Washington area, says the propaganda, and so many more car phones, and so many more fax numbers, and so many more lines added at home for gabby teenagers, and so many more businesses requesting multiple lines, that the cupboard was about to be bare of phone numbers. So, say the phone wizards, they had no choice.
That's horseradish. Couldn't the wizards have developed a whole new telephonic universe for car phone numbers? Or done the same for faxes? Or figured out a way for us to dial 234-5678A if we want the adults and 234-5678B if we want the ninth-grade daughter?
And think, if you dare, about where all of this may lead.
They'll hold the World Series in a couple of weeks. The two teams? Quite possibly the (412) Pittsburgh Pirates and the (415) Oakland Athletics.
They'll ask Willie Nelson to re-record his classic hit. The new title? "(404) Georgia On My Mind."
They'll tell Sinatra he had it all wrong. It should go this way, Blue Eyes: "I saw a man who danced with his wife, in (312) Chica-a-a-ago!"
Sad-eyed schoolkids will have their term papers returned. No, no, the teachers will scrawl, in the margin, in red. The Erie Canal didn't run between those two cities. It ran between (518) Albany and (716) Buffalo.
Prime-time TV will never be the same. They'll have to develop a new cop show called "(305) Miami Vice," to go along with that all-time Yuppie favorite, "(Some Parts 213, Some Parts 818) L.A. Law."
And pity poor Dorothy. When she spoke those words to her dog, they instantly became immortal. There's no immortality in this sentence: "Toto, I have a feeling we're not in (913) Kansas any more."
The phone company says we'll all get used to it. But how can I get used to it when I realize that this is all just a stopgap measure?
In 20 years, less if we're unlucky, we might again run out of phone numbers. The phone company will no doubt trot out a new scheme: Zone codes in front of area codes for local calls. Just dial 13 digits instead of 10, and you'll be as happy as a clam, the handouts will say.
But I'm saving my deepest suspicions for this claim: The phone company says area-codes-before- local-numbers won't cost us any extra money.
Sure. They'll have to rework all their circuitry, reprogram all the computers that the information operators use and reissue all the phone books. And it's all going to be free?
So let's all get out our appointment books. On Oct. 1, call the phone company and let them know what we think of this new wrinkle. Give 'em a (212) Bronx cheer.