Adventures in phone service

For all of you who don’t know that I had a pet dinosaur, this was the phone in my parent’s home:

1950 phone

The number started with TU8-. When I gave the phone number to someone in South Florida, I would say, “Tuxedo 8-4700.”  If you wanted to call someone in another state, you dialed 0 for the operator and she connected you.

I know, it’s just too unbelievable.

Ma Bell, as we called the evil stepmother of the telephonic terror era, rented the phone to you.  If you weren’t so rich you farted gold coins, you had 2 choices: A black phone, or no phone.  And you had to pay for renting a second phone in your home on the same line.

Area codes didn’t happen until the 1960’s.  At first, there was one area code for anything from Fort Lauderdale down.  If you try calling someone in south Florida now, there are dozens of area codes, and you have to dial 10 numbers to call across town.

This was my first phone when I lived on my own. 

1970 phone

It actually had push buttons so your finger didn’t get sore from sticking it into holes to dial and redial the phone several times in a row.  That was what you had to do when the other person’s phone was busy. 

We had no call waiting and no answerphones.   Instead of having a cell phone in your car, some people had CB radios.  If you were driving from Flagstaff Arizona to the Winslow crater and your car broke down…oh, well.  Someone might stop eventually. 

There were party lines for those of us too poor to afford a private line.  Each party line seemed to be equipped with one person who lived to listen in on other people’s calls.

I preferred the busybody to the person who was constantly talking to this person or that. When the phone was finally free for 5 minutes, s/he’d pickup the receiver to see if you were still talking and then s/he’d ask you to stop hogging the phone.

When Ma Bell was forced to break up the Monopoly game, she became a whole bunch of Baby Bell’s.  I could buy my own phone in the color I wanted!  I could choose who I wanted as carrier.  Life was good! 

A mere 20 years later, just when long distance became affordable, this thing called the portable phone came into being!

portable phone



If you were in the middle-class, you could buy a small plane before you could afford one of those monsters.


By 1997, cell phone service was a mere $49 a month!  Finally, I could afford a phone of my own that I could use to call anyone at any time!

I wish this were the end of the story.

Once upon a time, when I had the money for a monthly cell phone service, and my ear didn’t become hot after 15 minutes on the d@mned thing, life was good. 

Every time someone wanted me, the phone played the theme to the Addams Family. 

Hey!  The Addams were MY kind of people!

After 10 years of owning cell phones before they were smart, I no longer needed a monthly service.  I was faced with a dilemma:  How do I keep a phone on me for the rare occasions that I actually have to make, or wait for, a call?

Into my home marched the pay-as-you-go phone.  Only $100 for 12 months of minutes at 5 cents a minute.  WooHoo! Since I use about 4 minutes every 3 months, this seemed like the best way to go.  And I could still use my 10 year old clamshell phone that says “Cingular” on it! 


samsung 2006


For the first 2 years, I bought the yearly service.  I used so few minutes, I’d offered both of my kids the opportunity to use them for me during my visits to their homes, but I suppose there’s nothing more embarrassing than being 20-something with a clamshell phone plastered to your ear.

When I forgot to renew it until the day after the minutes expired, a strange thing happened.  I lost $183.00.  Yes, that’s how many minutes I still had on my phone after 2 years.

To avoid making that mistake again, I put a piece of white masking tape on the back of the phone with the date it needed to be refilled, and purchased minutes for $10 every 3 months at 10 cents a minute.

Easy, right? 

Not so much.

I missed the refill date…again. But this time I only lost $10.

Did I mention the process you have to go through for a refill?  You go online to a marketing service, purchase the minutes, and then you have to wait for a number to show up on your cell phone.  You dial that 10 digit number along with 10 more and hope that it goes through right. 

Unfortunately, it’s hard to dial a number when your phone flashes the message “limited service.” It means you can only make emergency calls.  That’s what happens when your minutes expire.

Why didn’t I know that?  My husband usually does the refills for me.  He’s the one who has to brave the tiger that’s guarding the door to the plans for a galactic bypass.

Too embarrassed to admit that I had forgotten to do a refill on time yet again, I tried to pay for it myself without my husband’s help.  

He advised me to go to the cell phone providers website.  Not the marketing website.  How I remembered which of my defunct emails I’d opened the account with, and the password, is nothing short of divine intervention.

I successfully entered the number on the website, then I tried to dial out. the words “limited service” continued to plague me. 

It took several frustrating hours, but I finally broke down and asked hubby for his help again. He was a bit testy about it at first, until he did all the “right” things and still kept getting the message that said, “limited service.”

After half a day, he was able to get it to work, sort of.  You have to be outside and hold it just right to get a signal and hope the battery that you just recharged will hold that charge for 2 minutes.

I did what anyone with half a brain would do.  I contacted the cellphone expert in the family, my daughter.  If anyone can get me out of this mess, she’s the one. Unfortunately, my quest for the same model dumb phone might turn into the impossible dream.


Some days, I miss Ma Bell.