Phone jam: Maybe it's a signal we're too busy

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comSeptember 24, 2013 


Life just got more complicated in the 843.

A second telephone area code for the eastern third of South Carolina is being recommended because we've got too many phones for the 843 area code. We should expect to soon have two area codes in the same area.

If this sounds like a lot to swallow, I direct your attention to these instructions in the 1970 phone book for customers of the Bluffton Telephone & Appliance Co.:

"To call another party on your line, dial the listed directory number. On completion of dialing, you will hear a recorded announcement telling that you have called a party on your line; and instructing you to replace the receiver and wait a sufficient amount of time for the called party to answer. Upon answering, the called party will hear a distinctive tone indicating a reverting call. The called party should remain on the line until the calling party again lifts his receiver and returns to the line."

Got that?

The directory also taught us to place the receiver to our ear and listen. "A steady 'purring' sound called the 'dial tone' will be heard if your line is ready for use."

Emergency numbers included one for reporting forest fires on Hilton Head Island.

In 1970, Bluffton's listings covered four and a half pages. Hilton Head's filled 18 pages, from Abe's Driftwood Lounge to Frank Zimmerman. The Sea Pines Co. and Sea Pines Plantation Co. listed 22 vice presidents, which might explain why Sea Pines soon had to split off from the island's 785 exchange for its own 671.

With Bluffton being the 757 exchange and Beaufort 524, we could easily tell where everybody lived. It wasn't as good as the party-line days when we also could tell what they were having for supper and who they were in love with, but it was still a help.

As progress marched busily on through the pluff mud, the ever-growing phone books were always front-page news. And someone on Hilton Head wrote a letter to the editor offering a helpful hint for better telephone service. It was suggested that we pause after dialing the first three numbers to let the phone catch its breath.

Now telephones are everywhere. They might even be sold as brain implants. They are certainly smarter than we are. We're all party to each other's phone calls. And the 843 is full.

But our cellphone service is so spotty, the purring sound called the dial tone is only available in certain rooms of the house, on an incoming tide, when the squirrels are asleep.

Maybe it's a signal that we're too busy.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at

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