The other day, when I took my dog Riley out for a walk, I noticed a large plastic bag under my mailbox. Inside where two soft cover books, one of about 90 pages, the other of almost 700. The pages had a curious yellow tint.
On the way back from our walk, I picked up the bag, intending to put it directly into the recycling bin. After all, I don’t read books anymore; I have a Kindle.
Also, as I’m sure you’ve surmised (unless, perhaps, you are under 20 years old), these were phone books.
“Does anybody use these anymore?” I asked Riley who, I’m positive, would have liked to reply “Unless you’re going to give me one of those to rip apart, can we go inside now?”
So we did. But on a whim, I brought the books in with me.
These were what we used to call “fake yellow pages.” That’s because they weren’t published by New York Telephone, which became Nynex, which became Bell Atlantic, which became Verizon, which became the company that sends me incomprehensible cell phone bills every month.
In Queens, NY, the phone company published two massive volumes each year, one with white pages and one with yellow. We’d keep those in the kitchen, and refer to them whenever we wanted to locate the nearest anything to us, or avoid the fee the telephone company charged for calling Information to get somebody’s phone number. (For you kids, that’s where the phrase “Getting the 411” comes from. It was the number you called for information.)
In addition, the titanic tomes were good as booster seats for kids.
Several times a year we also received smaller, counterfeit phone books, put out by imposters who charged local businesses to be listed in them. We kept those, too, because they had coupons.
And then the Internet happened.
No longer do our fingers have to do our walking through the Yellow Pages, as the jingle used to say. Now we just Google what we want and where we want it, and then find out what Yelp has to say about it, and then often not even go there at all because we can order from the website.
Getting back to the plastic bag Riley and I found, one of the books in it was for Fairfield County, CT. The other was for the city of Stamford. Since Stamford is in Fairfield, this seemed redundant. It was almost as if someone told the publisher that phone books were archaic, and it responded by saying, “Not if you have two. Here, have another.”
I wondered who this publisher was. On the back cover of one of the books, right above a full-page ad for a group of injury lawyers called The Pickel Firm (perhaps Pickel paid a pretty penny for prime placement), I was informed that the publisher was in Cedar Rapids, IA.
Well, I thought, in my condescending, elitist East Coast manner, that explains it. The phone books came from a place that may not yet have the Internet.
Ha ha, just kidding, Iowans. On the other hand, Cedar Rapids is ranked #3 for the happiest city in America, and I can imagine lack of Internet access being a big part of that, because citizens could live their lives without having their minds blown and their jaws dropped 20 times a day. Maybe they don’t have cell phones, either, and Cedar Rapidians cheerfully go about their days, greeting people as they pass instead of blindly walking into traffic while checking their emails. (BTW–The cities ranked 1 and 2 for happiness are both in Kansas, so, all in all, I’d rather be miserable in the New York metro area.)
Where was I?
Right, the phone book publisher. I figured it was just a bunch of kind-hearted Iowans anachronistically producing a product for the remaining 15% of Americans who don’t use the Internet, like my mother, who has never even touched a computer, and who can’t figure out how to use the speed dial on her flip phone. She has something better than the Internet, though. She simply calls the one number she knows how to dial, and asks me to order stuff for her. I may be the only person in the world who constantly has Amazon deliver Freedent gum to an assisted living place in Boca Raton.
But I digress.
I pictured the phone book publisher as a small mom-and-pop operation, possibly working out of a barn. It turns out, though, that it’s a major company called hibü. It’s spelled with a small “h” and an umlaut, which seems way too hip for Cedar Rapids. Not only that, but the first thing you see on its website is:
Local. Digital. Solutions.
The digital marketing you need to establish a solid foundation online.
And it doesn’t even list fake yellow pages as one of its services! Doesn’t this very 21st century digital company know its name is on a very 20th century analog product?
Or are they embarrassed to admit it?
Anyway, getting back to my original question: “Does anybody use these anymore?” The answer, at least in my neighborhood, is apparently not, because several days later, as Riley and I went on our walk, there were still plenty of plastic bags sitting beneath mailboxes, almost as if the homeowners were afraid to even touch something so antiquated in order to throw them away.
Or maybe they thought the bags contained one of Riley’s deposits. If so, I’ll be hearing from the homeowners association in the near future.
If they can find my phone number.
See you soon.