12 May 2008

The California Beep Line




In the summer of 1975, I was 13. Let me take you back...

It was a strange time. We had ugly clothes and hair. Very ugly. It was past the free love '60s but not yet the narcissistic '80s.

Here's some of what was on TV:

Meanwhile, on the radio, Eric Carmen was complaining about being all by himself, Paul Simon was listing 50 ways to leave a lover, Pure Prairie League was crooning to Amie, John Denver was singing about Jacques Cousteau's boat, Morris Albert was going on about feelings, the Spinners were lamenting the games people play, Olivia Newton-John was wondering if you'd never been mellow, The O'Jays were loving music--any kind of music, and so on.

I believe 1975 was the summer I hung out with Randi. Randi, who not only spelled her name with an "i" but dotted it with a circle, a heart, or, most often, a smiley-face, was a bubbly person. Aside from both of us being 13-year-old girls who went to the same Junior High (because in 1975, it was a Junior High not a Middle School), Randi and I didn't really have a lot in common. Where I had mad crushes on boys at school, Randi flirted with boys at school. We had very different ways of being but mostly we had proximity. We lived a few houses away from each other and so it didn't require parental transportation to hang out--a huge plus!

I can remember clearly when Randi introduced me to the California Beep Line. I'd never heard of it before and I've never met anyone since that time who's heard of it. Randi told me she'd gotten hold of this toll free number for the California Beep Line. You called it and you'd hear a couple beeps and then there'd be about a minute of no beeps and then back to the beeps and then another minute of no beeps and so on. The idea was that there were all kinds of people calling in to the California Beep Line and you communicated on this free, national, shared phone line by talking in between the beeps.

We called the California Beep Line every day for about a week. We waited for the beeps to end and then we called into the phone "Hello? Hello?" and you know what? One day we actually talked to someone else on the California Beep Line. We were freaking out! We were so nervous we didn't know what to say. I remember he asked us our names and Randi, clever girl, without a pause, gave out fake names for both of us. She advanced our ages a few years, too. He wanted a phone number to call us directly but I don't think we gave him one. We weren't that gutsy.

This was long before social networking sites, before texting, before chat rooms, before usenet groups. If we wanted to communicate with strangers, we called the California Beep Line.

Now, Google Analytics tells me when I've said "Hello? Hello?" on this blog, in the last month alone it's been heard by people in Poland, Uruguay, Australia, India, Singapore, the Netherlands, France, Canada, Mexico, Portugal, Sweden, the UK, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Venezuela, Peru, and, of course, the good ol' US of A. I don't have to wait for the beeps to stop. I can send out a "Hello" any time and see what comes back.

So:
Powitanie Świat!
¡Hola Mundo!
विश्व नमस्कार !
Hallå världen!
Bonjour tout le monde!
...
well, you get the idea.



11 comments:

Gilahi said...

We didn't call it "The California Beep Line", but we had a similar setup in Georgia where I grew up. You'd get a recorded voice telling you that there was a dialing error or some such, and then 30 seconds or so of silence in which you could chat. I actually met one of my first long-term girlfriends on this setup (I was probably 13 as well). These days, you'd be afraid to meet ANYONE through such a method...

Sudiegirl said...

I don't know if my sister tried this thing (she's about your age) or not.

But it's interesting!

lacochran said...

Gilahi: Amazing! Someone else who's heard of the California Beep Line, even if that wasn't what you called it. Absofreakin' amazing. Just proves my point about the power of the internet... ask the internet (read: universe) for what you want and you shall get it!

Bilbo said...

In the summer of 1975 I was 24 years old and living in Louisiana, the land of humidity and large ugly bugs. I never heard of a "beep line," but when I was in college we learned of one campus building that was open at night and had a telephone with WATS (wide-area telephone service), meaning the school paid a flat rate for unlimited calling within a defined area (i.e., the state) each month. I and many others saved a lot of money until someone decided to lock the office...

washwords said...

ha ha ha. I remember there was some "secret code" line you could dial then push a secret secret code, hang up and your phone would ring! It was a great trick! I also remember three-way calling and when my one friend got the first caller ID like thing I'd ever seen. it was the coolest thing in the world!

lacochran said...

Sudiegirl: Thanks for stopping by.

Bilbo: Sweet! *pumps fist*

Washwords: I have a very vague recollection of that. Thanks for sharing. :)

Dezel said...

Hi,

Never heard of the beep line, but I perusing the TV listing; I love all of those shows. One of my favorites, Sanford & Son, I never realized was on for only 5 years. Great show, written by the late Richard Pryor.

lacochran said...

Hi Dezel: I had no idea that Richard Pryor wrote Sanford & Son! Great bit of information. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

From 1962 to 1984 we had a Beep Line in Minneapolis, MN. We didn't call it the Beep Line though, we called it the Jam Line. It happened when ever you called the local Radio Station request line, it was usually busy, and in between the beeps there would be a bunch of girls and guys asking for your phone number. If you gave it out, someone would call you back! I met tons of girls that way. It was great fun!

lacochran said...

Anon: 62 to 84! That's a long stretch. Thanks for weighing in.

Anonymous said...

A lot of people have been posting about the Beep Line and Jam Line on the Internet in the last four years since this blog started. Now we even have a radio station interview complete with archived audio of an actual Beep Line! Check out this story:
http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2012/12/24/arts/jam-line/