American Times Los Angeles: Telephone hell in the City of Angels

IN LOS ANGELES, your telephone area code is who you are. A bit like postcodes in London, or arrondissement numbers in Paris, area codes have connotations far beyond the bureaucratic shorthand in which they were conceived.

They are the closest thing the city still has to a caste system, defining what is cool, what is dowdy and what is plain whacked out.

Say 213 - the code for downtown and South Central Los Angeles - and people will instantly think of functional public administration buildings, gangsta rap and race riots.

A 626 conjures up the old money and rolling lawns of Pasadena; 323 the hip young scene on Melrose and Sunset Strip in Hollywood; 714 the ultra- conservative dormitory communities of Orange County; 909 the frontierland of the last suburban subdivisions before the high desert.

Area codes are the glue that sticks together the metropolitan mess of Los Angeles. They help to define its snobberies, fears and hidden secrets. All of which helps to explain, perhaps, how the latest changes proposed by the Federal Communications Commission have managed to spark a mini- revolution on the city's affluent west side. The privileged dwellers of 310 land - a mythical kingdom that conjures up images of Malibu beach houses, monster mansions in the Santa Monica foothills, and movie-star palaces in Bel Air and Beverly Hills - are not just angry, they are apoplectic with fury.

The reason? As of a few weeks ago, 310 became the first area code in Los Angeles that needs to be dialled at all times, even for local calls. So all those manicured Beverly Hills hands that until recently had to punch just seven digits to talk to their friends down the street now have to punch eleven of them (the 310 plus an extra 1 for good measure at the beginning).

Not only that, but as of July the 310 code will be "overlaid" with an entirely new three-digit code (424) that will be handed out to new subscribers in the area. Such changes may sound less than earth-shattering, but to westsiders who have worked hard for their prized area-code status, it is equivalent to telling the Queen that Buckingham Palace is now in London SE17, or decreeing that W11 will henceforth be shared between Notting Hill and Peckham Rye.

"You have to understand," the estate manager of a westside multi-millionaire said in response to the change, "the woman I work for has homes in Beverly Hills and Malibu and we're on the phone constantly. The Malibu estate alone has seven-and-a-half acres, a 20,000-sq ft main house, a guest house; there are probably 60 phones on that property alone."

Help is at hand in the form of a $60 (pounds 38) gizmo developed by a westside electronics whizz called Jamie Lieberman, which will automatically dial the 1-310 prefix on local calls. Mr Lieberman hasn't made too much effort to publicise his invention, but since the changeover his own phone has been ringing off the hook.

Councillors and congressmen have had an earful, too, largely from influential constituents threatening to take their campaign contributions or votes elsewhere. Some have hinted at a conspiracy, claiming the Federal Communications Commission has been inefficient in allocating numbers and that the only reason new codes have to be introduced is to make life easy on the private telephone companies cashing in on the Internet/cellphone bonanza.

But it is impossible to avoid the impression that the indignation is fuelled far more by area-code territoriality than by concerns about the inefficiencies of telecommunications number allocation.

New York has had a smack of the same controversy, as the authorities have threatened to infest Manhattan with a rival to its fabled 212 code. But in Los Angeles the debate is made more acute by the fact that the very identity of this notoriously amorphous city is at stake.

The joke, as it turns out, is that the sense of identity is more wishful thinking than hard reality. The current 310 area code might encompass the richest neighbourhoods in the city, but it also includes El Segundo, a cluster of industrial smokestacks next to the airport, Torrance, a depressed suburb full of closed arms factories, and Compton, byword for violent gang culture.

Now if the 424 overlay code could be applied just to that stinking mass, leaving 310 land intact ... You'd never hear anybody air that particular proposal, of course, but it's what they are all secretly thinking.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?