Calling Fargo

One of the weird things I’ve noticed here is that everybody refers to phone numbers on the Air Guard base by the last three digits. It’s funny, because there are no “extensions” on base in the telecom sense of the word. There’s nowhere on base where a single, seven digit number gets dialed to reach an exchange and further subsets of three or four digit extensions. Everybody has their own phone number. And in America our phone numbers are segmented out into three digits of prefix, a dash, and then four digits of specific number.

A three digit area code may specify what state or county is being dialed in the USA, but the three digit prefix that Hollywood always represents as “555″ in a phone number tells the dialer an awful lot about a phone number. What would be gibberish of (123) 456-7890 can be decoded rather quickly to the savvy. Back home in Tucson I could tell from a 298, 730, 295, or 791 prefix if the phone number belonged to D-M Air Force base, a Verizon wireless cell phone, the Air Guard unit by the airport or the city government. I’d be willing to bet major hospitals or the University own their own prefix.

But most importantly, that means that every phone number within a common prefix everywhere I’ve been in the United States has been referred to by the last four digits. Whether it’s been a military base or a city fire station, the numbers after the dash have all been recited.

Need to call so-and-so in that other department? He’s at 5210.

Personnel office? Call 3795.

Sergeant Jones? The supply person? 7413.

So it’s very strange to hear people here refer to a number by just the last three digits. It kind of makes sense, because the base is so small all the phone numbers share the prefix and the first digit of the last four. So every number would be something like 123-4XXX.

The problem is I’ve got 30+ years of phone numbers being in a 3-3-4 format, plus 15+ years of technical understanding the “why” and background to it. I just can’t think the way they do here, so when somebody tells me to call Dave by dialing 237 I wind up just staring at them in a befuddled state. That’s not the way the phones here work. If I just dial a random three digits I get tones and the “call cannot be completed as dialed” message. I still have to dial the prefix, and the first of the four digits that I don’t know because nobody ever bothers to say it aloud. So for all I know, the phone numbers here are (123) 456-X789 and I never know what X is.

It’s frustrating because I feel like an idiot, but it’s also comical because everybody on base is saying phone numbers “wrong” but they all know what they’re talking about. Just another of the dozens (hundreds?) of little bits of culture shock here in the northern prairie…

Flyover Country

While researching a brand of wristwatch yesterday I chanced upon an article where the term “flyover country” was levied most certainly as a pejorative.

I’ve been guilty of this myself a few times. It’s no secret that I don’t see eye-to-eye with the local culture/way of doing things in Fargo, ND where I currently reside at my employer’s pleasure. I only volunteered for the Fargo posting because nobody else wants to go there and I was sucking up to curry favor with management for my plan to request Italy, Germany, or England in another year or two. It became very apparent to me that I’m just not a midwest personality. I ache to be out west again, in mountain country and to have a city large enough to support a Cheesecake Factory within an hour’s drive. My wife heard an old man from Bismarck say they couldn’t live with the “hustle and bustle” of Fargo. We cracked up laughing, not derisively, but in amusement at our own culture shock. How two different people observe the same subject but see two different things. He sees “hustle and bustle” where we see a quaint, small town.

But as miserable as Fargo sometimes makes us (Arizona natives in a Fargo winter are a pretty bad match) and as firm as we are in our plans to leave when possible, one thought keeps shouting at me from the back of my mind.

These people that big-city folk like to call “hicks” grow and provide all our food.

Let that sink in a minute. I might really enjoy big city life, but you tell me what metropolis in America isn’t a net importer of everything that sustains living? Millions upon millions of people in America would starve if it wasn’t for those “hicks” or “bumpkins”. Think California or New York could feed their own state’s population if they had to? Not on your life. Texas could probably feed Dallas/Ft. Worth. The pacific northwest (where my wife and I dream of moving) would be fine. I don’t know how well Arizona could support Phoenix and Tucson.

My point is this: I don’t like living in the midwest or the way they do things here, but I also don’t grow my own food and wasn’t raised as a hunter. My food comes from the grocery store. So now I do my very best to keep my mouth shut and be grateful, because my well-paying job doesn’t actually make me self-sustaining.

Believe me, this is flyover country and there is little if anything noteworthy here. But for the sake of manners, consider what you eat for a month and then consider being nice.