All Talked Out

During one of my recent nights of insomnia, I was shocked by the fact that party lines are back.  Hell, did they ever actually go away or did they just die down for a minute while the internet caught steam?  Hmmmm, something to ponder.

Well, back in the day, party/chat lines were all the rage.  The commercials used to play all the time, not just at late night.  Well, the adult ones ran at night, but during the day, the ones that we saw were targeted toward a much younger audience.  Fortunately, MrsTDJ aka MrsChatterbox had never had the honor of seeing any of said commercials.  Y’all know that Mama TDJ and Daddy TDJ do not play.  New readers might wanna mosey over to the “Best of” column on the right and read up on my no nonsense parents here, here or here.   I only watched 3 hrs of television a week until I was in the 10th grade.  Insert my country cousin, Sunshine.  Sunshine is a little younger than me and she was also born to stricter parents than mine.  Most of my family lived in the suburbs of Long Island, NY but Sunshine and her parents lived about 2 hrs away in the middle of, well, nowhere.  Whenever she came to Long Island, she’d stay a few weeks and alternate between my house and my grandmother’s house.  I was allowed to watch a few extra hrs of tv when she was around.  YES!!!

Well, one summer that Sunshine came to visit, it was hot as hell.  Unbearable hot.  Like Africa hot and we New Yorkers were NOT used to it.  We’d play outside for an hour and have to come in to recuperate for two hours.  We had our guy cousin Slim hanging with us for a few days too.  My grandmother and auntie had gone to the store, so we were left to our own devices for about an hour.  Slim cut on the tv and we fought over whether to watch One Life to Live or Guiding Light.  None of us got to watch lots of tv, but my aunties all watched the stories and we knew enough to know that 2pm was a good slot.  I wanted to see Viki and Asa on One Life to  Live, while Slim wanted to see the dilly folks on Guiding Light.  See?  I can’t even remember any of their names because I never had any love for the folks over there.

Anyway, Sunshine and I won, so we proceeded to watch One Life to Live. YAY!  During the commercial break, we saw a bunch of teenagers, lounging in a basement, laughing, giggling and passing a telephone around in a circle.  They looked like they were having the time of their lives!!!!  They showed a little map of what appeared to be Long Island, then showed little lines connecting all these different teenagers, in all the different houses.  AMAZING!!!  Ever the ringleader, I said, “Let’s call.”  Words I’d come to regret in a few weeks.

So we did.  We called that day and chatted with teenagers all over New York.  We talked to guys and girls close to us in Westbury, Hicksville and Roosevelt, farther away in Jamaica, Roxbury and Astoria, and those really far away in Co-op City, Brownsville and Staten Island.  Ohh, the fun we had!!  We made plans to meet at Jones Beach, Green Acres Mall, and Jamaica Avenue.  Talks of summer bbq’s and swim parties were in full effect.  The three of us talked on the party line for hours.  Literally.  And that weekend, while we were at my house, every time Mama TDJ and Daddy TDJ gave us a few minutes of being unmonitored, we were dialing the party line.  We talked and talked and talked. 

Fast forward about 3 weeks.  After walking in the door from the park, we all knew something was up.  My parents were sitting in the living room waiting for us, and Daddy TDJ was holding an envelope.   He motioned for us to sit and we did.

“Do you know what I’m holding?”, he said.  We looked at each other in confusion.  We were still catching our breath from a good game of TV tag that we had played on the walk home.  Sunshine poked me so that I would speak up.

“No, Daddy.  What is it?”

Daddy TDJ unfolded the paper and it looked like a list of some kind. “This is a phone bill for $1,083.91 worth of party line calls.  Does anyone want to explain?”

My heart dropped into my stomach and I could feel Sunshine and Slim each grab one of my hands.  Wait, wait, wait!!!!  I said the first thing that came to mind, “The party line isn’t free?”  Doh!!!  Even though my parents were pissed, I could actually see the moment of amusement cross each of their faces.  I’d never been a good liar, so they knew that we had genuinely thought we were “partying” for free.  As they say, the devil is in the details – never did we notice or pay attention to the small print at the bottom of the screen, or the rushed rhetoric that the announcer spouted at the end of the commercial.

***sigh*** Chalk that one up as an expensive azz life lesson. The “party” is never really free.  All our birthday and Christmas money for the next year went to my parents to defray the cost of that damn phone bill.  And, the bill for my grandmother’s house came next to the tune of $473.18.  The old, frayed paper bills are still in my scrapbook.  Geez!!  The worst part?  We never got to meet any of the cool azz kids that we talked to that summer.  Damn party line.  I’m gonna sit back and watch a whole new generation get sucked in.

Have any of y’all ever called a party line?

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45 thoughts on “All Talked Out

  1. LOL! Lesson learned … the hard way! I never got sucked in to those party lines because I am not a big talker and hate to talk on the phone! But I had no clue that those party/chat lines were back. But due to the internet I do not see them lasting long at all.
    Smooches hun!

    • Yes girl, they are back. But for real, I’m not sure if they ever left. I believe that technology has taken over the world, but I guess folks still just wanna chat. *lol*

  2. *wipes tears of laughter* She’s done it again, folks! Great story/post! I never called a party line and that’s probably because we seldom had a home phone. Times were hard in ’22! LOL What kills me is that you still have the phone bills! Awesome.

  3. MrsTDJ! My goodness you got into some trouble! I am an only child too, so I got into my share. I never racked up a serious phone bill though! LMBO! I don’t think I would have ever heard the last of that. I love how you gave yourself up too!

  4. LMBO… Girl. I promise your childhood is full of comedy. I never knew party lines existed!!!! I don’t know if they didn’t have them around here or if I was just super sheltered or what!

  5. Hey Lady,
    I’ve been MIA for a minute on your page and was so glad I popped in today!! My cousins did the same thing but their bill was much higher since it was four of them “partying” at different times. I’ll never forget my aunt lining them up for their whoopin’!! LOL

    Happy New Year

  6. LOL I still don’t totally get party lines. How did you get connected to everyone? I also can’t imagine it costing that much!! Three-way was 75 cents/call if it wasn’t on your plan (all my friends had it) and I still wasn’t allowed to use it. From what I gather, our version was to have every person on the line call someone on three-way. We had a 10-person line one time and we knew everybody. That was FUN! I was hoping this was another story of y’all gettin in trouble… LOL

    • Imagine a huge teleconference. Everyone called into the same 900 #, and I’m assuming the calls were randomly routed into large groups. It was something crazy like $3.99 the first minute and $0.99 each additional minute. Ahhh, y’all had a great idea. Dang, wish we’d thought of that.

  7. Blahaha! I remember those. I think my friends and I called them once. I have a similar story” my dad was in the Navy so we constantly moved. When I left Virginia the first time, we were in transit in GA for about 2-3 months. I left my boyfriend back in VA (of course) and practically died not being able to talk to him. I didn’t realize at the time that there was a charge for long distance calling (duh). Nonetheless, I called him every day after school and we talked for about 2-3 hours. When my uncle’s phone bill came (we were staying with them) my mom went off. Apparently there was $300 worth of charges. Man I got my butt beat. LOL Not only was I not supposed to be making long distance calls but I wasn’t even allowed to date at the time. We broke up after that. LOL

  8. I.can.not. with you and your adolescent antics…lmbaooooo!!! Funny stuff….so errr.ummm…what did you and these random fellow party liners talk about? Did it never dawn on you all to get each other’s real numbers to KIT or was the plan always to dial back into the ‘line” when you wanted to talk? Pardon my ignorance of party line etiquette…lol

    • Bwahahaha! How come we NEVER thought to exchange ACTUAL phone numbers??? No ma’am, we just kept calling the party line. Some days we’d connect with new “friends”, other days we missed each other and met newer people. What the hell did we talk about? Everything and nothing!

  9. Happy new year cuz!!! Ooooh, wow, I’m glad that I missed that one. Much love to cousin “Sunshine” and cousin “Slim.” If they are who I think that they are I have fond memories of hanging in GCP with them in the summer. I’m waiting for a story from the wise factory down the road from your grandma’s. Cousin “Sunshine” and cousin “slim” had me walking over there in the heat for free chips. Delish!

    • Happy happy cuzzo!! Yes ma’am, be glad you missed this mess. You surely do know the subjects in question. LOL! OMG, I forgot about the trips to the Wise factory. Thanks for the reminder. I will certainly get that written.

  10. I never called into any of those by my sister used to. They were free in the 90s and still free now. At least they care in cali. I don’t know how y’all roll in NY lol. My niece used to sneak and call the party time when she was younger. She’s even secretly meet up with people (ol heffa lol)

  11. Like Krissy, I never called the party line, but my sister did. The calls were free and it was a local number. I also remember picking up the phone and hearing a full blown conversation among strangers. I would hang up, thinking that would end their conversation, only to pick the telephone up again and hear the same people still talking.

  12. I’ve heard of party lines…..like, a few families shared the same line so you had to listen for the rings to know if it was for you. I vaguely remember the commercials but I’m the weird kid who always looks for the catch so you’d find me trying to read the fine print at the bottom of the screen to catch what it was, lol. I know, I’m strange.

    I do remember The Box though. The channel where you called in and ordered videos. For $3 a piece. We never called b/c I knew what would happen to me but we would memorize the three-digit codes so we could predict what videos were gonna be played next. I used to believe that it was all computer generated and that people never really called in…..until I read your story, lol. It’s possible.

    • Yeah, I remember those kind of party lines too.
      Oh man, I remember The Box!! LOL! Yes ma’am, idiots like my cousins and I certainly did call things like that.
      I’m sure someone, somewhere spent a grip on videos from The Box!

  13. I tried it one time……..and my mother caught me and gently, kindly, firmly, with great emphasis( with that look in her eye) told me that it wasn’t free and why was I talking to strange folks anyway who could be just waiting to snatch me up???? Needless to say, i never called the party line again…unless i was on three way with someone and THEY called! LOL

  14. Never called the party line but 2 cousins and myself called the “celebrity” line to talk to members of New Edition. The commercial stated you could listen to a special message from them but it could also be your lucky day to talk to them live! Well, I wanted to talk to Ralph. One cousin wanted to talk to Ronnie and the other cousin wanted to talk to Mike. In order to talk to them each or hear the message, you had to call each one separately. The first time we called, I was first. Surprise, Ralph was not live to talk instead there was a 5 minute message from. So cousin #1 thought she would have better luck getting Ronnie live. Wrong! Another 5 minute message from Ronnie. Cousin #2 tried. Same thing. We called everyday for a week trying to talk to them liv. Needless to say, we never did but we had fun listening to their messages. A few weeks later, my grandma received her phone bill. We had ran her bill up to over $500.

  15. Oh, I used to call a party line. It was always busy so when you actually got in – you never hung up! Ours was free though. If it wasn’t, I’m sure I would have heard about it!! LOL! I love that you still have the bills!

  16. I never called the party line but I ay have racked up a good $300 phone bill talking to my boyfriend back in the day. That did not end well at my house. LOL

  17. LOL! Too funny. The partylines never got me, but those horoscope/fortune tellers did. The first couple of times my mom asked me about it and said to stop calling. Waste of money. But I was addicted. As soon as she started making me pay for it my addiction was cured.

  18. Y’all were probably chatting with a bunch of grownups! Folks 25 and up with adolescent voices. How you dont know the party line ain’t free?! Nothing is free! But I guess kids dont know that.

  19. I saw the party line commercials but never called. I couldn’t talk on the phone either but I snuck and did it anyway. I’m in Cali and learned from these comments that it was free! Dangit I should’ve called. LOL!!

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