Mr. Fone's Web Page

When news of Alexander Graham Bell's invention reached the United Kingdom, the chief engineer of the British Post Office failed to be impressed. "The Americans," he said loftily, "have need of the telephone — but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys..."

Why they call me... MR FONE

To most people, telephones are just one of those necessities of life, but to some they are more. I have always found phones fascinating. As a child, I would often play with the phone and take apart all the easily removable pieces — the mouthpiece and earpiece covers, dials, and later the cords of our "standard desk sets" (500 sets). I knew the cool numbers to call — phone company test lines that would ring you back or screech high tones, and cool lines people had set up, like joke lines or medical information lines (automated information and entertainment was rare in the '70s). I had memorized the wire centers associated with each prefix in Orange County, CA (e.g. 772-xxxx numbers are Anaheim, 559-xxxx numbers are Irvine). As soon as I was old enough to get a job (1982), I got my own line with a touchtone phone. This was a longtime dream come true.

One of my early jobs was working in a "boiler room" making outbound telemarketing calls. Since I don't have a good personality for repeated rejection, I soon found other work. I figured it would be much better to be answering calls than making them. I got a job at an answering service. There I had lots of fun working a cord board, until they computerized and took all the call control away from the operator. I worked there for 5 years through high school and college. After I had become the most senior night time operator, I progressed to Evening Supervisor.

In addition, I had become quite good at wiring phone extensions, so people would ask me to do inside wiring for them, and I was able to make a little money occasionally this way, though it was more as a favor to them than anything else. Another project I undertook was to map out where the prefix boundaries were. I knew which communities were served by which wire centers, but I wanted to know exactly where the boundaries were since some wire centers serve many communities, and some communities are served by several wire centers. One summer I took my map of Orange County, CA to the library every day and, with the cross reference directories there, I was able to map out exactly where some of the service boundaries are. Once a co-worker was shocked that, given the first three digits of his phone number, I was able to narrow down where he lived within a few blocks.

One thing I had always wanted to do was be an operator (at The Phone Company). People I had met at the answering service and elsewhere, like my friends Sara, Allan and Greg, had been or were then phone company operators, and I would talk to them for hours about it. I had a very strong feeling that this was something I had to experience for myself. Late in my junior year of college, I decided it had to happen that summer, since I planned to start a career immediately after graduating. I had been regularly calling the employment line at Pacific Bell, the local Bell Operating Company. One day it said they were accepting applications for operators, so I hurried down there and applied. Later I took "the test" that shows you don't fall apart listening to someone talk while you are trying to do something else. I passed and was hired. I had a great time at Pacific Bell, in spite of having to work split shifts and varied hours from week to week, without knowing until Thursday what hours I would work the next week.

Once I was inside The Phone Company, I thought I'd learn everything I wanted to know, but unfortunately I knew more about the way things worked than the people I was working for. No one there is told anything that isn't essential to do his or her job. I wanted to know where the prefix boundaries were, and which switches were used where. They had no idea, and furthermore I didn't need to know any of that, either. I had fun connecting people all over the place. I was, for the only time in my life, a member of a union. My operator friends were envious of my call times. In Southern California, much of the population speaks only Spanish. Non Spanish-speaking operators had to conference themselves and a Spanish-speaking caller with an interpreter, who would find out what the caller wanted, then tell the operator, who then disconnected the interpreter and completed the call. A couple of these can really affect one's overall call times, which are deemed very important by The Phone Company. I knew enough Spanish to talk to the Spanish-speaking callers myself and answer their questions or give dialing instructions, so I got to skip the lengthy interpreter process.

But when the summer ended, I went back to the answering service where I could get a regular, predictable work schedule that would be flexible around my classes, happy that I had been able to be a phone company operator. Since then, I have not worked in phone-related positions. I have a phone collection which includes a few interesting relics, and I try to keep up on telecom related issues. People still ask me phone-related questions because they know that I will always be Mr. Fone.

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