I recently gave up my phone number after having the same digits for over 30 years, relinquishing one of my few status symbols.
After graduating from college I found a rent-stabilized studio apartment on the Upper East Side. Two-one-two had recently been designated as Manhattan’s area code, while the outer boroughs were afflicted with the stigmatizing 718. In my mind 212 came to mean the city: Manhattan Island and everything that counted in New York.
The most exclusive night clubs, hottest restaurants and priciest real estate were all within my area code. Saying 212 when repeating my phone number made me feel part of the Big Apple’s elite, even if I couldn’t afford to eat in my neighborhood’s four-star restaurants.
On the rare occasion I called someone in an outer borough I felt like washing my hands after dialing the misbegotten digits, lest I be associated with the bridge and tunnel crowd. But a few months ago I moved into my girlfriend’s Park Slope house, which has a 718 land line.
Many New Yorkers nowadays consider it trading up to go from 212 to a Brooklyn 718. Gentrification has made a Kings County phone number something to aspire to for the city’s young, restless and creative. Park Slope—with its rehabbed 1890s clapboards, fair-trade-coffee-drinking carriage-pushing parents, and hyper-environmental sensibility—is part of Brooklyn’s emergence as a hipster-haven. I love the area’s informal feel, but at age 55 I am too set in my old neighborhood’s money-focused culture to internalize my new neighborhood’s youthful communal vibe.
When I walk around my old Manhattan neighborhood and encounter the well-coiffed Wall-Street types from Park Avenue, I feel part of the crowd. When I traverse the “Slope,” passing 20-somethings with their unkempt hair, canvas sneakers and altogether mannered scruffy look, I wonder if we have been invaded by space aliens.
I doubt that the 718 area code will ever obtain the prestige of 212. Seven-one-eight, after all, is still associated with the un-gentrified Bronx, wannabe cutting-edge Queens, and the perennially insecure Staten Island.
Nonetheless, I feel like my city has passed me by, even as I live in the center of its new wave. I was so reluctant to part with my 212 identity that I delayed disconnecting my land line until weeks after moving–as if continuing to pay for my dormant phone number made me bi-borough.
A friend who moved from the Upper East Side to Westchester dealt with his sense of loss by buying a Manhattan area code for his smart phone. I thought about doing the same, but that would require me to give up my mobile’s 917...which I’ve heard has become the 212 of cell phones.