Opinion: Long-distance calls, now and then

First published in The Madera Tribune on March 16, 2016.


I spent some time on the phone Monday with Sophie Reiss, who happened to be speaking from London. She works for a news service there, and she had called to see whether The Madera Tribune needs any news from Great Britain. My answer was probably not, but I would be happy to take a look at what she had. And so she sent me an email, and while I was waiting for it to show up on my computer, we got to talking about this and that.


As we were chatting, it occurred to me that a few years ago it would have been highly unlikely the chatty conversation we were having would have been taking place. That’s because calls to London were very expensive back then. The 20 minutes or so that Sophie and I spent talking probably would have cost $75 or $100, back when $75 or $100 was real money. Heck, it’s real money now, at least to me. Maybe it would have cost more. And the conversation would not have been too clear.


But this is today, and there was Sophie, talking to me as though she were calling from just up the street, with the clarity of the call as good as if she were standing in the same room with me.


In fact, the clarity of the call was much better than I usually get with my cell phone, which often sounds as phones did in the olden days when people would talk to London from the West Coast of the United States.


I know because I made a call to London in 1975 on my then-employer’s telephone to check out a story. The employer was The Tacoma (Wash.) News Tribune, and the story was about something that had happened to a Tacoma citizen who was visiting London. I don’t remember the details, except that it was a pretty big deal at the time, and had made “the wire.”


But I do remember the week after I made the call, when my boss dropped by my desk to advise me that if I did any more telephoning to England, they would start taking the bills out of my paycheck, and that would mean there wouldn’t be much of my paycheck left.


I hope Sophie’s employer, the Press Agency, wasn’t taking the cost of our call out of her paycheck. She said she’d call back next week. I hope her company can afford it.