THE CODE OF OUR HILLS

By Richard McCord

Rio Grande, Low Road to Taos
Rio Grande


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It had to happen someday, and now it's going to. New Mexico is getting a second telephone area code. Change,change,change.

Faithful readers of my musings will not be surprised to hear me sigh over this latest tug on the Land of Enchantment toward the modern, 21st-century world. But I'm really not upset or even surprised that our familiar, durable 505 prefix will be joined by a second number within two years.

I mean, just about everybody I call these days--except for some diehard 212-ers in Manhattan and a sister in Denver who clings to 303--has a different area code than they used to But there's been something nice about watching other states keep coughing up new codes while 505 still covered all of us.

The telephone book tells me that there are currently 11 states with just one area code: Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Wyoming--and New Mexico. Pretty classy company. But frontier New Mexico is about to move on to bigger things.

It's all enough to make me recall the phone system I found when I came to New Mexico in the 1970s. Although 505 had been the state's area code since 1947, Santa Fe had just two telephone prefixes back then, 982 and 983. Moreover, to call someone, you didn't need to dial the 98--just either 2 or 3, then the last four digits,for a total of five. My two favorite numbers in those days were coach Carl Miller's (2-2222) and theater maven Jinx Junkin's (2-2221). You didn't forget them.

There was often a long wait for hookups in the 1970s, so I did without a phone for a while. When I finally got one, I was glad that it had the 982 prefix, instead of 983. It felt more basic somehow, closer to beginnings. Santa Fe had just one postal ZIP code then as well--87501 was enough for us all.

Things changed dramatically and for always on Saturday, June 2, 1979. That was the day when Mountain Bell (the predecessor to US West) activated a new system that required all seven digits of the 982 and 983 numbers to be dialed. Though the conversion was heavily advertised, it nevertheless infuriated Santa Feans, thousands of whom called to complain.

One of the distressed was Richard Polese, a fixture in the Santa Fe cityscape for many years. Two years ago he just missed being elected to the City Council, and in 1979 he was editor of the Museum of New Mexico's magazine, El Palacio. He did not care much for the new, improved telephone system.

"It's a sign of creeping big-brotherism in Santa Fe--the idea that bigger is better," Polese said then. "It's a minor inconvenience, a mild irritator, but it's another sign of the inverse relationship between growth and the quality of life. The change is small, but significant--one of the little charming things about Santa Fe is gone, along with many others."

That kind of sums up my own take on the most recent "sign of growth"--the coming of a second area code. For more than 20 years I've kept my original 982 telephone number, and I'm also proud that my address is still in the original 87501 ZIP code.

How many ZIP codes have we added since the 1970s? First came 87502, then 87503, then 87505. And look at all the telephone prefixes. It boggles the mind: 982, 983, 984, 986, 988, 989, 992, 995, 954, 820, 827, 424, 428, 438,455, 466,467, 471, 473, 474 and 476 are all there, where 982 and 983 once served.

As I said, I'm not really upset. I'm actually part of the problem, with two phone lines in my house, the second one for my computer and fax. It's the way of the world today, and we should save our fighting juices for more significant issues.

Even so, I'm glad that my ZIP code is 87501, that my phone prefix is 982, and that when the new area code comes, I and Santa Fe will still be 505, even if most of New Mexico changes. For the past is with us always, and I'm fond of it.

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