The Holidays, along with a business trip caused a slight delay in writing this installment. I must also admit that I have a bit of a problem occasionally handling multiple items on my plate and unfortunately there have been many things going on.
I guess the subject matter is somewhat of a stumbling block for me as well. In some ways, this article covers things that opened up a new world for me in several different ways, and I have always held the things it will discuss dear. Call me melancholy, call me stuck in the past – it is what it is.
Before any computer aside from Atari Pong and the Terminal my dad brought home ever entered my house I had a fascination with the telephone. I spoke often to a female friend I had growing up who lived only a few houses down and also to another friend who I spent time with on the weekends. I would sit there in the kitchen, sometimes on the old wooden bar stool we had underneath where the telephone hung and I would gab away for as long as my parents would allow. Sometimes this would be 5 minutes – possibly due to someone else in the household needing to use the only phone we had, and sometimes the calls would stretch into the night – even after my parents went to bed.
There were two phone numbers that I dialed on that rotary phone over and over again – especially during the winter months. One number was 214/844-1234 (or any 4 numbers actually), and the other was 214/787-1111. The first was GTE time and temperature and the second was the local Weatherline number which was provide forecasts as well as time and temperature for my area.
But its the first number – the GTE time and temperature number that I will be waxing melancholy with you about here.
I can only guess, but I would think that I probably started calling the T&T number sometime in the late 70’s as it was then that I became aware of the fact that if it snowed or iced up outside, it meant that chances were good that I wouldn’t have to go to school. Many calls were made in evenings and early mornings to check on conditions with my fingers crossed that the temperature would be below 32 degress – especially if it was precipitating outside.
Though I started calling the number that early, it wasn’t until around 1981 or 1982 that I made a discovery.
It was one of those cold months, and I had called to see if the dark skies that day might equal snow for a friend and I to enjoy when I stayed on the line for some reason past the recording and I heard something. I listened as closely as I could but the line went dead.
I quickly dialed again, and then again, and finally after a few times I realized that what I was hearing after the automated female voice announced the time and temperature was a voice – and not just one, but several voices.
Dialing back that afternoon I finally thought to say something, “Can you hear me?? Hello????”.
“Yes, Hello… This is Charles… “, followed by – “… and this is Amy..”
I was awestruck… “What was this??”, I asked myself. “What did I find???”, I asked again.
Over the next few days, weeks, months and eventually years, I “chatted” with many people. Even though the “conversations” could only last for 10-15 seconds, it was enough time to say hello and introduce yourself or hear who else was on, and eventually people began trading phone numbers after the lady would announce the time and temperature information.
The discovery also catapulted my interest in the phone system and I dialed numbers similar to the time and temperature number endlessly in search of other “neat things” similar to what I had found – and I did find several other things before I even became aware of what a “phone phreak” was.
By the time I finally had the guts and social determination to try and meet others I had an Atari computer sitting in my bedroom and had already stumbled across things like “loop lines” and “conference bridges”, but I still dialed in to the time and temperature from time to time because it seemed as though it was just “ordinary people” who called it and not computer geeks like I found on the BBS’s and loops/bridges I called.
By the time I dialed into the number and realized it was dead I was pretty much knee deep in telephone/phreak related resources.I didn’t really “need” 15 seconds worth of chat when I could have hours upon hours via any number of bridge or loop I had access to, but it was the first of its kind and was special to me because of that reason and more.
To this day, I wonder about the technical reason behind why this existed, about what other relationships good or bad might have been created via the number and also what finally happened that ended it.
My hunch is that we finally got upgraded to ESS and this alone eliminated whatever anomaly that caused the voice bleed through after the recording, but I may never know for sure.
If you have a similar story or possibly lived in my area and “used” this “feature” I would love to hear from you.