About the Colony

How new phone numbers helped Atascadero learn a lesson in diversity

Lon Allan
Lon Allan jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

This is a fable for Donald Trump about one level of diversity. The Atascadero story begins early in 1962. AT&T was making some “test” calls around the community announcing that everyone was soon going to have a new dial system that included a modern seven-digit numbering system.

Along with that, we would get a new prefix: 466.

So finally in May of ’62, at one minute after midnight, Louise Roza pulled the plug from the old switchboard, bringing our sleeping little community of just more than 11,000 residents into the modern age.

There was only one prefix. We took comfort in knowing that what we all had in common was that we were all 466s. If you wanted to call the lumber yard or a plumber or tree trimmer or to see if Joe Grisanti over at the hardware store had a left-handed monkey wrench in stock, those three little numbers linked us all together.

The new prefix survived the switchover when the Atascadero News made the jump from direct hot metal printing to offset, a major technological advance for the community newspaper.

You dialed the 466 prefix to call the bank or Alcoholics Anonymous.

But then something happened, in the first few years of the 1980s.

There it was, in an advertisement for a new business, a brand new prefix: 461.

Most thought it was just a typo and that it would be fixed next week. But it was silently entering our community, first with businesses and then with private home phones. It was no longer safe to assume your next door neighbor had a 466 prefix. He could be a 461!

But it didn’t stop there.

In the mid-1990s, another new prefix arrived: 462.

But before you knew it, we learned to all get along. There they were, sprinkled all through the classified pages, all three prefixes in advertising for rentals, used cars, yardwork and, well, just about everything from professional services such as bookkeeping to FFA and 4-H hogs and sheep for sale.

There was talk of a wall, but that was going to run along the top of the Cuesta Grade to separate us from San Luis Obispo. But even our neighboring city to the south was by now dealing with its own diversification of the 544 prefix.

We were all in the same boat.

We were learning that it didn’t really matter what your prefix was. We were all the same, away from that telephone that was hard-wired into your home by AT&T, often before you even moved in.

Now, everything has changed again, thanks to the influx of cellphones. Some people are even dumping their house phone altogether and going rogue with 610 or 423 prefixes.

Despite these constant changes and a world that is ever-more diverse, we still have more to unite us than divide us and can gain strength from our unique differences. I hope our new president remembers that.

Lon Allan’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Atascadero for nearly five decades and his column appears here every week. Reach Allan at 805-466-8529 or leallan@tcsn.net.