Prank phone calls and caller ID

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By Geoff Hamill

The phone rang here at The Springfield Sun last week, and a man on the other end was trying to find out who had called him. He saw our number on the caller ID of his phone, so he called us back to see what we needed. Someone here had dialed a wrong number, and the call was dismissed without issue.

Our wrong-number call was harmless, but it sparked a conversation in the office about prank calls when we were kids, and how the times have changed so much from those days. It also made me think of some calls my friends and I made as kids, and it made me remember why we stopped making prank calls cold turkey.

Today, most of us probably take a feature known as caller ID for granted, but there was a time that feature was unheard of in our homes. No, it’s not an earth-shattering feature today, but it’s nice to have. When I was a kid, the girl who is now my wife had caller ID at her house before anyone else in our county. Her family had a relative who ran the local telephone company’s office, and their taxi business got to be the local guinea pig for caller ID.

When at her house, nothing was more fun than answering the phone and dispatching a taxi through her grandfather, who would drop everything, even his dinner, to serve a loyal customer – even if it was a little old lady who was at the grocery and needed to get home. It wasn’t about the money, which was probably a $2-$3 taxi fare, it was customer service.

I grew up as the only child in my home, so visiting Betsy was much more exciting than being at my house when the phone rang. Seven people lived in her house, and there was always something happening, and the phone was always ringing! Knowing who was on the other end, especially if you got a prank call, was great. Since nobody else had caller ID at the time, you could call the person by name, and they were completely amazed at how you could have known them. Needless to say, the prank calls didn’t come very often after word got out about the service.

Now, I never made a prank call to her house for two reasons. First, I knew they had caller ID, and second, her uncle would have killed me. But I did make my share as a young boy before the service came to town, and they were a blast. Most of them were made when we were home from school on snow days, and you can probably guess how they went:

Call #1

“Save-A-Lot, may I help you?”

“Do you have chicken legs?”

“Yes, we do.”

“Well, don’t wear shorts and nobody will know!”

Call #2

“Thanks for calling Quick Stop.”

“Do you have Prince Albert in a can?”

“Yes, we do.”

“You better let him out. He’ll smother!”

OK, you get the idea. It was simple, juvenile fun being had by 9- and 10-year-old boys with nothing to do on a snowy winter afternoon.

I’ll never forget the last prank call we made. I know it was the last, because it was the one on which we were caught. I have a friend named Mike. He now lives in Lebanon, though neither of us had any connection to this area as kids. We were at his house back in Irvine, and his parents were gone to work. They were real estate agents for Century 21, and we made prank calls from his house on this fateful day. We made a few, got our laughs, and then started to make one last call. I have no clue who was our intended victim, but I do remember the result.

The phone rang, the man answered, and we went into our routine. We came off with something we thought was funny, but somehow, the man on the other end didn’t agree. Instead of laughing like we did, or hanging up on us like the other people had done, this man had other ideas. He simply put the phone down, then contacted someone who was equally unamused, and we were in hot water.

For quite some time, what seemed like hours, we continued to listen. We could hear noise from the man’s house, but despite our desperate pleas, he would not hang up. Later that day, Mike’s parents were let in on our little joke, and they didn’t find it very funny either, as I recall.

I am not about to suggest that kids should do this, especially mine. But I do know that until we were caught, we sure had a lot of fun making prank phone calls. Today, thanks to the technology I so enjoy, those young pranksters-in-waiting have been foiled, but they have also been denied a good bit of harmless fun, and for that reason, I almost feel bad for them.