The new phone book’s here! …said no one recently. They appear mysteriously one morning; shrink-wrapped blocks, deposited in doorways around Chicago. Unrequested, and for the most part, untouched. After the rain, the bloated paper escapes the wrapping until someone finally decides to drag the sodden mess to a trash can. I guess businesses are paying to advertise in the Yellow Pages – and these books are all only Yellow Pages – but in the age of Google, I can’t think of the last time I turned to the Yellow Pages to find a store or restaurant.
This new phone book is smaller than the one I remember growing up. The Louisville phone book was a combination of white pages and yellow pages and at least 3 inches thick. It fit in a compartment in our front hall, right under an arched niche that seemed to have been the shrine for the phone before the phone line was moved to the kitchen. We consulted the phone book often. Unlisted numbers were rare, so everyone was in the book. I would look up the family of a boy I had a crush on to see what street he lived on, and then day dream about how I might casually find myself on that street and wave as I walked past. Any business you could think of was listed as well, along with ads vying for your attention.
I thought all phone books were like ours till I visited New York; the big city required two big separate books – one for white pages and one for yellow. When my dad traveled, he’d always open the phone book in his hotel room to see if there were any people in town with our uncommon last name, making a metal note of an unexpected branch of our family tree. I remember feeling excited when my name appeared in the phone book after I moved to an apartment. To paraphrase Steve Martin, I was somebody!
It seems like these paper resources were on the decline even before cell phones became so common place, and the Internet was probably the death knell. Today, a physical card or letter stands out in the sea of email. Maybe someone is using that same logic, thinking that thumbing through those tissue-weight pages will give us a burst of nostalgia. Even though I think my phone provides all of the same information, it’s not as easy to find out if your town has more Smith’s than Joneses, and my phone doesn’t make a very good temporary booster seat for a toddler.