I’ve got a 212 area code on my cell phone. I know you’re rolling your eyes or clicking off to learn the amazing secret of eliminating belly fat that your doctor doesn’t want you to know. When I say “call my cell at 212…blah blah blah …. blah blah blah blah”, most people don’t bat an eye. Like you, they don’t care. But there is a small subset of New Yorkers who are immediately galvanized. It’s like a secret handshake. And when two of us 212-on-our cells meet, we know exactly what it means.
It means you live in Manhattan, and you either moved here before 646 was invented, or you were clever enough to hold out for a 212 area code.
Once upon a time, every neighborhood had its own telephone exchange. There were no area codes. That is why you can see old matchbooks and movies with numbers like Butterfield 8 and Stuyvesant 9. It meant you lived in the Stuyvesant exchange, which was tied to your
neighborhood. Your phone number told people your physical address, and that in turn revealed who you were, how much money you had, how big your apartment was, how it was decorated, and if your mother drank champagne and spoke like Katherine Hepburn, or if she drank beer and sounded like Fran Drescher.
You needed the telephone exchange, because you couldn’t “dial” a phone. You called the operator, who was an actual person, and you’d say “Stuyvesant 9, please”.
She would then connect you. And when I say connect, I mean she’d pull the wires for your phone line and plug them into the switch for Stuyvesant. That’s why it was called a “line”. It was extremely high tech.
After mere decades, phones got MORE advanced and area codes replaced operators. In 1947, AT&T created an original set of 86 area codes. You didn’t need to dial the area code if you were making a “local call”, because 7 digits got you to everyone in your area code. 212 was the area code for Manhattan and the Bronx. You dialed 7 numbers, and you got someone who lived in Manhattan or the Bronx. If someone told you their number was “Stuyvesant 9”, you had to know how to turn the first 2 letters into numbers first.
Then, Manhattan got too big and kicked the Bronx out of 212. They had to go live with Brooklyn in 718.
Area Codes Now
I have no idea why we still need area codes tied to actual areas. They could just as easily be tied to your tastes in sporting events or artisanal beers. Soon enough, we won’t need area
codes at all. We’ll just THINK “call the hubby” and Google will connect our brains. Right now, though, area codes still mean something, and 212 means I live in New York City. Furthermore, I live in Manhattan. Even furthermore, it means I paid for my phone number, or it means that I’ve been living here a very long time. Either way, you know that I’m a dedicated New Yorker with an eye to a subtle personal brand.
Other people with an eye to a personal brand are those who have area code 718 on their cells. 718 means you live in Brooklyn or the Bronx. 718 is no slouch. 718 means “yeah, you could be a snooty Manhattanite, but I’m a denizen of the Outer Boroughs. I’m either an appalling hipster (which would tend to appeal to other appalling hipsters) or I live in a Real Neighborhood
and I can purchase the best street food you ever ate for $5. Every day. And you can’t, because your nice little island has turned into a theme park filled with tourists and Olive Gardens.”
How to get a 212 area code, and why you might want one.
Besides letting people know that YOU know what 212 means, there are other advantages to having a 212 area code. People are more likely to answer the phone, apparently. According to the Times, it’s a conversation starter. Businesses covet one. Business exist to sell you one.
2. Get a land line in Manhattan. That’s how I did it, and that’s how my clever friend George did it (because I told him to). I still have a landline with a 212 area code that I’ll probably port over some day.
Unfortunately, it’s not as easy to get a 212 number, even for a landline. You have to be persistent, since people hardly give up a 212 number any longer. But, it’s still possible. Here’s how. You can also try calling Verizon every day at 8:00 am to see what came in, and if you can have it.
Finally, a trivia question. What phone number has been in continuous use for the longest time in New York City? It’s PEnnsylvania 6-5000, which you can call today as 212.736.5000 (the PE of Pennsylvania turns into 73). This is the number for the Hotel Pennsylvania in midtown, named for Penn Station and not the state of Pennsylvania. The phone number itself was even featured in a 1940s Glenn Miller song.