310 or Bust
What's your code, man?


Some years ago I found myself with a short-lived job working with my betters on the West Side of Los Angeles, and one day asked a colleague for a phone number.

“Er…what area code?” I said, after she’d scrawled just seven digits on a piece of paper. I mean, this was years after the 213 area Los Angeles area code — which in my childhood stretched from San Diego to Santa Barbara — had been split into 310 (the West Side), 818 (the Valley), 714 (Orange County) and so on.

She looked at me in bemused puzzlement: “The 310, of course!”

Now you might think that, especially after losing the last two elections, the isolated elites would be slightly more in touch these days with — if not actually Red-state America — at least people who live just across town. But you would be wrong.

Because the 310-ers fought so hard against splitting their area into another code in the late ‘90s, now a new overlay plan means that everyone there will have to dial 1-310 before every single call beginning this week, even when just calling across the street.

I can understand their annoyance, but not that they seem as removed from the masses as ever. One West Sider told the Los Angeles Times that, like my old colleague, he “automatically recites seven digits” when asked for his phone number. “I never have to say my area code to people I talk to,” explained this Pacific Palisades resident. “But I am going to have to do it soon.”

As someone who’s moved only east across the city ever since graduating from UCLA in Westwood decades ago, I suppose I should be used to this weird cluelessness by now. “I don’t like driving up the hill past all those Mexicans,” a West Side friend blurted out when I moved from the Fairfax area to Echo Park in the late ‘80s and she began to balk at visiting me. “Face it: You live in East L.A. now.” But Echo Park is at least several yards west of the Los Angeles river, thank you very much!

And I can’t help but wonder about the willful ignorance of people who’ve managed to remain blissfully clueless about basic telephone number patterns even after years in this city. It has somehow penetrated my East Side brain, for instance, that prefixes beginning with 27 mean Beverly Hills; 45 Santa Monica or Malibu; 47 West L.A; 65 West Hollywood and the Beverly Center area, etc. Is it really such esoteric knowledge that a prefix beginning 66 (the old Moreno exchange, from a street in the hills between Hollywood and Downtown — look at the letters on your telephone keypad) means the Silver Lake/Loz Feliz area, where I now live?

“Oh, I thought that was Pasadena,” a West Sider said airily to me not long ago, when I gave her my number. But… but… Pasadena has a whole other area code than Silver Lake! It’s been that way for years!

Never underestimate the power of those Blue-state bubbles, though. You can see the beginnings of the 310 set’s overlay resistance in Beverly Hills 213, a glossy giveaway that continues to litter the doorstops with its name unchanged — two decades after the 310 code was introduced. Beverly Hills 213 readers wouldn’t be caught dead in the inner-city 213 now, of course, but you can see the beginnings of today’s resistance in that stubbornly archaic name.

It all comes together in the faux populist persona of lefty pundit Robert Scheer, a West Side institution on the local public radio show Left, Right & Center, which airs weekdays on KCRW-FM. Years ago, before the Los Angeles Times finally noticed Scheer had passed his sell-by date and dropped his column, he went on a tear against the possible loss of the 310 area code. Because heaven forbid the Barbra Streisand set would have to learn a whole new set of three digits.

Scheer’s an old enemy of fellow 310-area-code liberal pundit Mickey Kaus for not being liberal enough, but on the area-code issue, at least, they have some common ground. “He wrote a very nasty review of my book” — The End of Equality, in 1992 — “and dragged my parents into it,” Kaus, who grew up in Beverly Hills, the son of California supreme-court justice Otto Kaus, told me. “So my mother didn’t like him. But then he saved seven-digit dialing on the West Side, so now he’s her hero.”

But Scheer only saved it for a while, of course. And if the rest of those liberal 310 elites can’t get in touch with the rest of us, their elections will continue to be as lost as their area codes.

Catherine Seipp is a writer in California who publishes the weblog Cathy’s World. She is an NRO contributor.