Once upon a time, there were only five area codes in all of New York State. In those days, Route 58 was a bunch of potato fields, the Hamptons shut down in September, and most of our parents had rotary telephones.
The scary part is, that really wasn’t too long ago.
Back in 1999, just before the launch of the 631 area code for Suffolk County, The New York Times described the new area code as “a number still strange and unknown to many residents who in years to come will grow all too familiar with it.”
I was one of the lucky few who ended up stuck in the 516 with a pre-existing cell phone number.
I didn’t have a cell phone because I was a high-powered journalist or a wheeling-dealing real estate agent, like most people who had cell phones in those days.
I had a cell phone because I lived on a boat. Not a yacht, but a 40-year-old 24-foot sloop with leaky toe rails and loose keel bolts. One year, the blessed man who ran the boatyard where I kept it refused to put it back in the water because he was sure the boat would kill me. The best thing I could do for that boat, he said, was to buy a Sawzall and cut it up into little pieces. He saved my life.
I rejoiced when I learned I could keep my 516 number. After all, 516 meant quiet beaches and potato fields, bumpkin schools and endless causeways through salt marshes. It meant I was home. This 631 fad, I cheerfully convinced myself, would never catch on.
But there’s no going back in our march toward extra phone lines and new people will always be arriving to call Eastern Long Island home. Within a couple years, everyone was asking me if I was from Nassau County after I gave out my phone number.
“Where exactly is it you live?” said those suspicious East Enders. “You don’t have a funny accent like those people up west.”
It doesn’t take a lot of convincing to let an East Ender know you have no idea where Wantaugh or Mineola are. I’m not sure if that’s something to be proud of, though. In fact, I have no idea whether Wantaugh or Mineola are in the 516 or the 631. I suppose it’s pretty easy to use Google to find out, but I don’t want to know.
This Thursday, the New York State Public Service Commission announced that Suffolk County’s long-anticipated second area code will be 934. This will not replace the 631 area code, they said, but will be an exchange for new numbers. It will begin to be rolled out in late 2016, around the time we’re expected to run out of 631 numbers.
Because this new method is known as an “overlay” zone and not a “geographic split,” once the new numbers are established, everyone in Suffolk County will need to dial the complete number, including the area code, even if they are dialing a number within the same area code as their own.
The commission chose this method, they said, because it’s easier to implement and will be less expensive for businesses, who won’t have to change their signage and advertising to add a new area code.
With the addition of the 934, the total number of area codes in New York has jumped to 16. We were stuck lumped in the 516 with Nassau for generations. The 631 lasted just long enough to send my son from Kindergarten to high school graduation.
In theory, 7.9 million telephone numbers can fit into an area code, but once you add in business lines and everyone’s cell phone number and the number of the GoPhone you can’t find that’s been sitting, dead, under your couch cushion for the past decade, those numbers go fast.
With 1.5 million people here in Suffolk and the population booming, I wouldn’t be suprised if the 934 ends up being the new exchange for just a few brief years before another area code is added.
I was considering scrapping this whole 516 charade a few months back, when I received a return phone call from a lawyer for a story I was working on. He also had a 516 area code.
“The only reason I called you back,” he said, “is I saw you had a cell phone with a 516 area code and I knew you’d been on the East End forever.”
That settles it. I’m keeping my phone number. 631, you are just a flash in the pan. 934, we are ready for you, and for all the numbers that come after. The 516 and 631 granddaddy numbers will some day be proud to call you their progeny.