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Your fingers no longer do the walking in the ‘Yellow Pages’
Dennis Wyatt

The newest edition of the Yellow Page arrived last week.

That’s not a typo. Compared to the Yellow Pages of my youth what was left on my doorstep was more like a single sheet of paper.

The “Real Yellow Pages” also known as the “AT&T Real Yellow Pages” was so thin that if there had a slight breeze last Wednesday whoever delivered it would have had to weight it down with a brick to prevent it from blowing away. It’s a far cry from the early 1970s when delivery crews tossed the Yellow Pages onto your doorstep it sounded as if they had thrown a brick.

There was a time when you actually looked forward to receiving the phone book directory. In many households it was almost as revered as the Bible and was referenced with significantly greater frequency.

Not only did it provide numbers to households and businesses alike but it saved you from being  nickel and dimed to death calling directory assistance. 

Before Yellow Pages and single line service came along telephone companies never had the audacity to charge you for providing you with a phone number. After all, the more you dialed — especially if it was out of town to distant places like Stockton or Modesto — the more toll charges they could slap you with.

That might be a difficult concept for anyone under 40 to grasp since you can call New York City from Manteca on almost any cell phone plan and talk for 24 hours straight without incurring an additional charge but calling long distance in 1970 was like filling a gas tank. As long as the talk flowed the meter kept turning. An hour-long call could set you back a day’s wages.

You couldn’t just Google a number on your phone and then tap a “call” button to reach your party. If you didn’t have a number for a person or company you wanted to call in a distant city that wasn’t in the phone directory paired with the Yellow Pages you had to call the phone company for assistance. You got three directory assistance calls a month before they started dinging you. And if you wanted to dispense with the problem of writing down the number they gave you so you could call it, the operator would dial it for you — for a fee.

It is why the Yellow Pages book was almost as good as gold.

The book almost always was kept with the phone. Should for some reason someone would grab the phone book and not put it back there was hell to pay. Unless the person who wanted to call someone knew the number they needed the phone book. It was the original phone app, so to speak.

Back in the days when people had to walk 10 miles one way uphill to school in blinding snowstorms you actually had to memorize phone numbers.

In fact you memorized them so well 50 years later you still remember them. It’s kind of ironic given that now if you ask most people for a phone number of a person they frequently call they have no clue what it is forcing them to tap into their smartphone phone directory.

The phone book, much to the dismay of your parents, often became the most tattered book in the house. Given it was — and still is — printed on paper a grade above toilet tissue it tears with ease.

The phone book also had other practical uses, especially during family gatherings such as Thanksgiving. If there was no space at the kid’s table and a small kid had to sit at the big table a couple of phone books stacked on each other served as a de facto booster chair. The odds are that booster seat sales increased over the years in proportion of the size of phone books shrinking.

The Yellow Pages now are rarely wedded with White Pages that contain the listings of residential phone customers. That’s mainly because fewer and fewer households have landlines. There’s a bit of sweet justice in this given phone companies are so arrogant in their monopoly world that they actually charge you a reoccurring monthly fee not to have your landline number published in directories that make them significant sums of money from Yellow Pages advertising.

You’d think that given that just over 40 percent of households still have landlines that phone companies would stop charging their customers for a service they don’t want — a listed phone number in a published directory. 

AT&T used to charge 28 cents a month to not provide you the service that you didn’t want. Now it’s $1.75 a month if you don’t want your household phone number listed in a directory. Frontier — that provides service in Manteca, Lathrop, and Ripon — charges $2.50 a month or $30 a year so your name, address, and phone number is not plopped down on the doorstep of strangers complete with full page Yellow Page ads of lawyers in case they get caught for identify theft and/or breaking or entering.

That brings up another interesting point about Yellow Pages. There was a time when it was illegal for attorneys to advertise. Once it became legal to do so lawyers literary flooded Yellow Pages with advertising often running full pages. While the volume has slimmed down along with the actual phone books, the attorney category is still the largest for Yellow Pages advertising.

A disproportionate share of those ads are focused on injury claims. Thirty years ago such a claim might have included trying to lift the three volume San Francisco Yellow Pages directory. Today it might entail slipping on a phone book left on your doorstep.

Years ago the volume of phone books distributed was so huge that long before recycling came in vogue, cities would strive to collect old phones books when the new were distributed not as much for the sake of recycling but to avoid a massive overload in waste collection.

Today there are no such worries.

Most of us pick up the Yellow Pages on our doorsteps and walk directly to the blue recycling cart and unceremoniously drop the phone book into it.

It’s been quite a fall from grace for a book that once was central to our daily lives.

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209.249.3519.