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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Extras
indybest
News
peopleLiam Williams posted photo of himself dressed as Wilfried Bony
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
The monkey made several attempts to revive his friend before he regained consciousness
video
Extras
indybest
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
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: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Analyst - Bristol

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Analyst is required to join the ...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick