Before Caller I.D.

Although it may seem unfathomable to many, but there was a time really not that long ago when there was no Internet, Cell Phones, Cable T.V., Artificial Intelligence and no ‘Caller I.D.’ Back then when you received a telephone call you had no idea who was calling, whether it was someone you wanted to speak with, a bill collector or possibly a ‘prank call’. Back before all those things were invented, we used landlines or phone booths to make calls, and also prank calls.. Those who were around at the time would no doubt be familiar with some of them, or may have used them on others themselves. Some of the more popular ones that were used by myself and friends were the old Gas and Electric and Telephone Company calls. For example, we would do the “Hello, this is Jack Gold from BG @ E and we’re having some problems with the lines in the area, could you go and turn on all the lights in the house for us to make sure everything is working”? And many would do that and you would either thank them while trying not to laugh, or say to them, “now isn’t that a bright thing you just did”?

Another version would have Jack calling from the telephone company saying that “the company was having some trouble with the phone lines in the area and we want to make sure the phones are working properly so could you do us a favor and grab something like a pot and a spoon and go into the next room and start banging on the pot”, and many would. There was also the ‘Jack Diamond’ standard calling from one of the local radio stations like ‘WCAO’ and would tell the person that we’re calling to see if they have the lucky number for the ‘Jackpot’. The person would usually respond with some comment like “ahhhh, I’m not listening right now”, or something to that effect, and we would tell them to take a guess anyhow. After a little prodding they would venture a guess, and one of us who was playing Jack Diamond would respond slowly with “could you repeat that number”, and after doing so, Jack would get all excited and tell them that they have guessed the lucky number and have won the Jackpot. We would usually end the call by telling them that we would be sending the check out and to be watching for it(back when the radio stations would pick the caller from the phone book and have the address). There were other versions of prank calls but these seemed to be the most popular for us. However, there is one prank that I have kept to myself for about 50 years not telling anyone other than my brothers.

One summer day, Bob Mathers(got permission to use his name)and I were hanging around thinking of something to get into. I can’t recall who first came up with the idea but we decided to have some fun and call a few cabs and send them to ‘Dan’s Sub Shop’ on Millington Avenue. Almost like it was scripted, the cabs from Yellow, Diamond and Sun all showed up about five minutes apart. Dan came out on the second one, and from our vantage point down at Ashton and Millington Avenue, we could see Dan standing outside with his arms folded and shaking his head. But the real kicker was that we had also ordered a bus to take a bunch of people from ‘Dan’s Social Club’ out to Memorial Stadium to watch a ball game. We also ordered some food from one of the restaurants for Dan’s group to enjoy on the bus. When the bus showed up, not very long after the last cab, although we couldn’t hear what Dan was saying to the bus driver, you could tell he was quite upset, pointing his fingers and such towards the bus driver. Not wanting Dan to get wind of this as I eventually went to work for him and rented a room from him for a while, one can understand why I wouldn’t tell anyone about this prank.

While the last prank was a bit extreme, there were many things that you could do with a phone back then and get away with before Caller I.D. became available. For those who Jack Diamond told had won the Jackpot, I’m sorry but as they say, “the check is in the mail”!

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