Dick Tracy: Remember telephone books? | TheUnion.com

Dick Tracy: Remember telephone books?

I miss telephone books.

In addition to the phone numbers listed therein, it was a lot of fun to scan the Yellow Pages ads.

When we visited Las Vegas about 25 years ago, Felicia was going through the phone book in our hotel, looking for “Equestrian” advertisements in line with her horsemanship operation, and I noticed she was impatiently turning page after page in her search.

She’d stumbled upon the “Entertainers” classification and found 109 pages of ads for such. And there were no “Chuckles the Clown” ads, either. No siree. Lots of “entertaining” goes on in Las Vegas.

In that vein, I’m reminded of a story about a boisterous gent getting on a departing fight from Vegas and loudly telephoning his wife that he’d been “a good boy.” It so irritated a female passenger in an adjoining seat, she leaned close to the phone and said, “Honey, hang up the phone and come back to bed!”

Back to my story: When I was a kid in 1950s Reno, we couldn’t afford a phone for a long time. My stepfather was a fry cook and Mom worked at Woolworth’s. But when we finally got one, the first thing I’d do when the directory arrived was look up “Fred Hintze” and check to see if the number was correct.

You did the same thing?

In those days we started off with a four-digit number for our three-party line.(We picked up on two long rings.) And yes, once in awhile we secretly listened in to other’s calls to catch up on neighborhood gossip.

Then as the population grew (journalist Ernie Pyle once wrote in “Home Country” that the 1940 directory covered all of Nevada and parts of California!) a “2” was added. A year or so later a prefix was added. Fairview 2-8796. Of course I remember 70 years later … but why?

At a Reno High School reunion about 20 years ago I astonished two old friends by remembering their four-digit numbers from junior high. (I yearned for her affection, and she had a crush on him.)

I have to admit being surprised when private companies — other than “Ma Bell” — began offering their own directories, making money from ads in the Yellow Pages.

Alas, with competition from the internet, ad revenue dried up and so did the books. Google “Telephone Yellow Pages” and you’ll be amazed at the services offered there.

My last directory was an outdated one of those I’d use for quick reference instead of the internet.

Then one day it was missing. Felicia, who seldom throws such things out, discarded it.

“It was outdated,” she shrugged. “With my iPhone I can look up a number in an instant and not have to redial it with my dyslexia and possibly get it wrong.”

Time marches on.

Dick Tracy is a retired journalist who lives in Nevada County.

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