Walking Fingers

The oddest thing happened to me this week. Well odd for me. The Yankton/Vermillion phone book was delivered to my mailbox. In the past, I would have grabbed it and said, tongue firmly planted in cheek, “What the hell is this?” then tossed it in the recycling.

This time, I probably said just that very thing…however, I immediately retracted the statement and flipped to the yellow pages. Old skills never completely die away, they just become a bit rusty. I flipped immediately to the Steel section. Much to my delight, there we four or five entries. All later turned out to be duds, but that simple action made me realize, we are losing yet another resource to technology.

My dream for the last several years is to build my own airplane. Not a kit, but from scratch. I bought a set of plans a little over a year ago. Just before we moved, I started the process. Then we moved and it’s on hold. The house projects pushed the dream aside. As many airplane builders say, “Life happens.”

The airplane is steel tube with aluminum wings. The fuselage will be fabric covered. When I lived in the Twin-Cities, I could source the steel and aluminum locally, saving me shipping charges.

Since moving to South Dakota, I have performed several Google searches for local steel suppliers only to come up empty. Not completely empty. There are steel suppliers, but for my airplane, I need certain kinds of steel. Sourcing those locally looks like it will be harder.

What does that have to do with the phonebook that showed up in my mailbox?

Growing up in Minneapolis, we got the phonebook annually. It was deposited on our doorstep like a modern-day Amazon delivery. San’s the risk of a porch pirate stealing it later. Someone in the house would collect it up and replace the old copy with the new one. Sin of all sins, that old phonebook was tossed in the trash back in the day. Most households had a special drawer, or shelf for said phonebook.

As I write this, I realized, in bigger communities, like Minneapolis, the phonebook, and the yellow pages were two separate publications. Both were in the neighborhood of a thousand very thin pages. Smaller communities, like the one I live in now, combine the two. If they even exist anymore. I have not seen a big city phonebook in years.

In many ways, the yellow pages were far better than a Google search. If you wanted steel, you looked under steel. If you wanted auto repair, you looked under that heading. If you wanted attorneys, well it was the first twenty or thirty pages of the yellow pages. Hard to miss, but who was looking in the first place.

When the new yellow pages arrived, I used to page through it just for fun. Everything in alphabetical order. No need to place an ad, if you had a business with a phone number, it showed up in the yellow pages. Sure, you could buy a bolder font, or pay for an ad, but doing so did not get you preferential placement. If your business started with an A, it was first. If your business started with a Z, well shame on you. Buy an ad!

Not like modern search engines, where the people who pay the most get thrown in your face.  If I search for “steel suppliers near me,” I get inundated with ads for online metal suppliers. A person must scroll and click before they even start to find something local.

Everyone in the yellow pages was local!

One of my favorite observations while letting my fingers do the walking was how some restaurants garnered their own category. If you looked under sushi, it would say, See Restaurants. If you looked under barbeque, it might say the same. But pizza and Chinese earned their own category.

Another realization comes to me as I write this. I was a creeper before the term ever came to be used in reference to social media. I was a shy kid. I never had the guts to come right out and ask a girl in junior high (another antiquated term) for her phone number. I would instead, find out where she lived. Whether it was following her home, nonchalantly, or learn her street from someone else who lived in the neighborhood. Once I had a street, I would drag out my trusty phone book and search through all the last names that matched hers until I found one that matched the street.

Oft times I would not do anything with that phone number. Again, the shy thing. But a couple I called and invariably the first thing they would say is, “Where did you get my number?” This was all pre-caller ID. Yes, there was a time when caller ID did not exist.

I smile as I recall one young lady, she answered and seemed a little surprised to be getting a call from me. I then said, “The reason I am calling is to ask you for your phone number.” She started to give it to me, then realized the lark.

Ah, good times.

Of course, the creeper thing had its limits. Being in Minnesota, if my love interests last name was Johnson, or Anderson, or any of the other sons, my patients was way to short to rifle through the thousands of surnames.

All that is lost now that we rely on internet search engines for finding businesses or persons. Attempts to search for a person you have lost touch with is fraught with false hopes as people finders tease you, then ask for a credit card. The phone book just told you if they existed in your area code and gave you a number.

No longer will I scoff if a paper reference book of people and businesses lands on my doorstep or appears in my mailbox. The people part will likely never get used…not a fan. But when looking for a local business, it just might be the first place I look.

Assuming I am not at a restaurant or bar, and something comes to mind, then it will have to be Siri. Technology does have its conveniences.

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