Comfort from Pizza and Five-Digit Dialing

I came to Eugene the same week the 503 area code left. Except for a brief stint in California, I spent the previous decade one step ahead of states with multiple area codes.

I left Chicago around the time the 312 area code had to be reserved only for Chicago. I hightailed it then to a small state, calculating that 203 would suffice for a state as small as Connecticut. But it wasn’t long before I heard 10-digit rumblings there too.

My short stay in California should have acclimated me to longer phone numbers, but it did just the opposite. I came to Oregon pining for the simple days of my childhood. My best friend’s phone number was TW4-6321. Our number was TW4-6277.

It’s never occurred to me until today that our numbers were separated in sequence by 44. For all I know, the phone company assigned sequential numbers for all the residents in our neighborhood, arranging everyone into a single numbering line. Times were simpler then.

Nobody was confident that seven digits could be remembered, so the first two numbers were expressed with a word. Everyone’s number in my young world started with Twinbrook-4 or Lasalle-9. It must have worked, because I remember that number still. Neither of my sons remember their first phone number.

I remember the hushed tones of scandal when our phone got disconnected and then restored when I was in high school. Our new number started with “882.” We could be branded as newcomers, even though we had been one of the first families to move onto the block.

Area codes were not used and never thought about. You needed an area code only when you had to tell somebody far away about a death.

Who would have guessed that five-digit phone numbers would become such a mental comfort food? Not to be confused with the ultimate comfort food — pizza — which is what I was seeking last week.

I walked into Big Slice Pizza on 13th Avenue not looking for anything new-fangled. (Are all things fangled always and forever new?) My California years got exotic pizza experiments out of my system.

My brother’s confession applies to our whole family. “When it comes to pizza,” he tweeted, “I’m all heel and no Achilles.”

The Big Slice slice was big, and good. Capstone student housing looms over the location. They won’t struggle to find customers. I took the take-out menu home, and there it was, staring back at me.

I’d been hearing about it for years. I was warned it was coming. I always thought it would arrive tomorrow, or any of my many tomorrows. I didn’t think it would ever burst into my only “today.”

The pizzeria’s phone number starts with 458, and then seven more numbers after that. Eugene’s second local area code has arrived.

I called Glenn Eitelman, the owner.

“Yeah, I freaked,” he told me. “I had an anxiety attack. I said ‘Ya gotta be kidding me!’” (As an aside, you should be able to guess from that sentence what sort of pizza Glenn is selling — East Coast style, thin crust.)

He continued. “I think I’m the first one to have the 458 area code. But it turns out, it’s no big deal. Everybody’s cell phone numbers are from all over the place.”

“Yesterday a couple came and Caller ID said they were from Ohio, so I asked them, ‘Are you visiting?’ — nah, they live two blocks away. I always watch Caller ID when orders come in.”

I had to ask: “Have you seen a 458 number come in yet?”

“No.”

Eitelman’s anxiety attack brought back my high-school angst. His number will make him seem the newcomer in town, even though he’s lived and cooked here for decades. But times have changed. It might actually work in his favor, come to think of it. People now favor “new” — since marketers have successfully conjoined “new” and “improved.”

New was considered a stigma in the early 1960s. Now it’s the other way around. Back then, we didn’t trust anything we suspected had been fangled.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs.