Numbers Game.

The phone rang. My friends and I looked at each other and then I picked it up.


“Hi, this is Sheila in Murfreesboro. Did you know Nashville is a local call for us now?”

Let me back up and provide a bit of context. This was 1990 and some friends and I were hanging out at my house. Murfreesboro is about thirty-five miles southwest of Nashville, and even though both cities had the same area code, 615, if you were in Nashville and calling Murfreesboro or vice versa it was a long distance call. Except suddenly it wasn’t. I’m not sure what prompted the change, but it was welcomed by the few people I knew from Murfreesboro who felt their humble ‘Boro was overshadowed by Music City. Also if you think where you live has the world’s worst drivers let me assure you that’s only true if you live in Murfreesboro, but that’s another story.

“Uh, okay,” I said. “Do I know you?”

“Oh no!” Sheila laughed. “I just thought y’all would like to know that the phone company changed it so we can call each other now for free.”

“So you’re with the phone company?”

Sheila laughed again. “No, I’m just callin’ random people in Nashville to tell ‘em about the change. So how’s it going up there?”

At this point I was laughing and I told Sheila what the weather was like, then added, “But you probably already know that.” Then I passed the phone around and each of my friends took a turn chatting with Sheila. She seemed to be a nice person and I wish I could remember if we learned anything about her other than that she lived in Murfreesboro and really, really, really liked talking on the phone. Eventually she said, “Well, it’s been nice talking to y’all, and remember if you ever wanna call me it’s free now.” And then she hung up. I’m pretty sure none of us thought about calling her back and we hadn’t thought to ask for her number—this was also before caller ID—so even if we wanted to we couldn’t. If we could have, though, it was nice to know it wouldn’t be a long distance call.

I’m not sure what the person responsible for this graffiti was thinking but presumably it was the local area code, although the area that used to be exclusively 615 is now also served by 629 and, really, do area codes mean anything anymore now that we can carry our phones anywhere? Perhaps not although every time I get a call from a number I don’t recognize that’s within the 615 area code I always wonder if it will be Sheila.

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  1. Ann Koplow

    I had a good time in Murfreesboro 20 years ago, visiting a friend and co-worker who had moved from the Boston area. I don’t remember the area code but I do remember the drivers.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I’m so glad you had a good time in Murfreesboro which is a nice place, too often overlooked, and I feel bad about criticizing the drivers there even if its reputation is well-deserved.

  2. mydangblog

    I very often have very nice text conversations with people who’ve messaged me by accident, especially my new friend “Shane Blaze4Dayz”. I worry that sometimes he’s going to start messaging me on purpose:-)

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      You’re very lucky to get text messages–I think they’re easier to respond to than wrong numbers, although I’ve found the easiest response to wrong numbers is to not answer. The only time I got an accidental text message it was when I still had a flip phone and I tried to call the person to tell them they had the wrong number. They kept sending me texts that asked me to stop calling because they were trying to drive. I’m not sure why they could text and drive but not talk.

  3. Arionis

    Just think, if that had happened today, Shelia probably would have told you to friend her on Facebook before hanging up. Your wife, however, might be wondering who this Shelia chick is that you friended and is calling you.

    You are right about area codes not really mattering much now. If anything, they are an indicator of where you lived when you got your first cell phone. Most people these days keep the same number no matter where they move.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I do sometimes get people I don’t recognize asking to friend me on Facebook–I guess it’s something we all get, since there are bots out there and there are also friends of friends who want to add to their number of Facebook friends. I suppose that would matter if I still used Facebook regularly.
      And I’d forgotten that people carry their cell phones and numbers with them even to different states. Eventually land lines are probably going to go and area codes will go with them and simply be replaced with random numbers.

  4. Tom

    Ah, I remember making a few friends back in the day that way. Amazing how times have changed. Now I make friends on social media, usually through other friends on social media, but that’s a different story.

    Honestly, anymore, I despise talking on the phone. Friends will call me, I’ll look at the phone, wait a minute and text “did you just call me?” Drives them crazy. 🙂

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      We are indeed simpatico–I hate talking on the phone too. Among other things having a piece of plastic pressed to my ear irks me. Back in the ’80’s I said that when I was an adult I’d have a fax machine and a modem (at the time I had a wide circle of local friends thanks to bulletin board systems). Anyone who couldn’t reach me through either of those, I said, could come by and knock on the door. Well, it’s not quite like that but I would prefer that they text me.

      1. Tom

        Sounds like we’d make great friends, Chris, since neither of us would pressure the other to “call me sometime.” ?

  5. Kristine @MumRevised

    I am just going to try and work the name Murfreesboro into conversation today because it is fun to say (at least the way I’m pronouncing it). Unfortunately, it is long distance from Toronto to call Murfreesboro so I can’t get Shiela or any other Murfreesboro resident on the line to correct my pronunciation of Murfreesboro. Please move to Murfreesboro and make a girl happy, Chris.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Even though I’m much closer to Murfreesboro than Toronto it would make my commute to work ridiculously long so I hope you’ll forgive me for being unwilling to move. I’d probably save a bundle on property taxes but the savings would be eaten up by paying for gas.
      I can, however, correct your pronunciation of Murfreesboro, although I suspect you’re saying it correctly.


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