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The Way I See It: Cutting the Cord: You Could Say My Days Were Numbered

A longtime companion of mine recently passed on. 

My landline. 

After 38 years, it is finito. Kaput. Gone. My number, 802-223-5801, has been put out to pasture, telephonically speaking, and for the first time in my life, a telephone cord no longer connects me to the world. 

OK, if you’re under age 30, this is like, huh … so? But those of us who remember pay phones, long-distance charges, and collect calls, to disconnect is to end an era. My landline number was not just where I could be reached, it stood for “home” and the place I lived — in my case, Calais — as well as the 802 that said “Vermont.” Before “mobile” — a term reflecting both technology and society today — phone numbers anchored us, just like an address or a job. 

So dropping 802-223-5801 is more than a dropped call. It’s dropping part of life as I knew it.

For those of us in rural Vermont, this can also trigger anxiety. I have no cell service at home, although I live just eight miles from Montpelier. (Welcome to rural reality). I use Wi-Fi to make cell calls. If the power is out, no 9-1-1. I used to plug in the old Princess phone for an emergency since landlines work without power. Now I will have to drive half a mile to get one signal bar — not the ideal situation if it’s a house fire or broken leg. 

But it was time. The impetus came one Saturday when I checked my voice messages and found 11 from the previous two days. Ten of them were spam/scams. Car warranty warnings, subscription offers, dubious organizations seeking donations, “How are you today” come-ons, “Amy” always calling to sell me medical insurance. My landline was mostly supporting a fraud industry.

As added incentive, mandatory 10-digit dialing instituted last fall meant fumbling through three extra tiny buttons of my cordless phones. Plus their batteries were dying. My fingers walked across the Yellow Pages and voted: to hell with it.

Thus 802-223-5801 moved into that miscellaneous drawer in my brain that contains useless memorized stuff. The drawer also retains 785-0788, which was my number in Dover, Massachusetts, where I grew up. Two numbers, 70 years or so. By disconnecting, I left behind not just a number but an entire era — before texts, messages, social media and video — when getting in touch meant either a phone or a letter.

Those 70 years connect me to a ton of memories. My first phone was a shared party line. To call out we needed to ask an operator. As a teen, I remember my father yelling at me to get off the phone, since calls outside of town were long distance and charged by the minute. Also sitting by the phone for minutes to get my courage up to call and talk to a girl, with my parents bustling nearby. Texting teens: Count your blessings! 

Growing into adulthood a whole industry grew with me, from the novelties of color phone designs, pushbuttons, answering machines and then cordless phones, call waiting, and voicemail. Today the idea of being attached to the wall by a cord is, like, the dark ages! But, oh, the liberation I felt getting a long coiled cord that allowed me to move around the kitchen in my old farmhouse while talking on the phone. Once a month I’d climb a stool and dangle the handset to unkink the massive tangle of knots in the wandering cord. 

By extension, those 70 years means I’ve lived with Ma Bell, NYNEX, Verizon, Fairpoint, then Consolidated Communications. Looking back, my landline has been both a timeline and vital conveyor of my life. It’s heard me hustle for writing work, discuss assignments, and wonder (all too often) where promised payments were. It was how I checked on my daughter in high school and at UVM and now all over the West. It was essential to renovating my 1830s farmhouse, arranging for carpenters and plumbers and sheetrockers and roofers and backhoe operators and concrete contractors and all kinds of repair and fix-it people. Also people who can tell me how to install or fix it myself (the Kubota, the Husqvarna), and how to fix things after I tried to fix it and screwed up.

My landline has checked up on my bank accounts and the no-accounts, why the carpenter and plumber never showed up or when, if ever, they will, and when gravel, or trusses, or windows might arrive. It has checked up on friends’ health and had mine checked up on, arranged rendezvous and soirees and assignations, and blown things up and calmed them down and heard apologies (all three in one call? Possibly).

It has learned good things and bad things, spread news and rumors and encouragement, and offered tips and definite don’t do’s and maybe do’s and “you did what!!?s.” I’ve certainly gotten and listened to love advice and returned the same, made holiday and dinner invites and birthday and party calls and power’s out calls. I’ve found out folks had died, dogs and cats had died, horses had died (or were loose), people were rushed to the hospital, and made it back from the hospital. My phone has informed me of endless gossip, who’s doin’ what with whom, and afforded endless over-speculations on marriages and breakups and divorces.

Let’s just say 802-223-5801 has heard A LOT. Asking Siri, well, it’s a whole different phone game. With email and texting, actually calling someone seems so … old-fashioned? Just post on Instagram or TikTok instead! 

So bye bye, landline. It’s over. My collection of formerly indispensable gadgets has gained new obsolete tech artifacts. Goodbye Uniden 5.8GHz. Goodbye VTech. Hello CVSWMD Recycling Center. Adios 5801: You had a good run, and some fine digits while it lasted.