I committed a minor fraud today. In the process of buying lunch at a grocery store down the street from work, I entered a phone number on the self checkout’s touchscreen. The number was not my own. For several years now, I’ve seen someone else’s name at the bottom of my receipts. It used to be my parents’ phone number, but they ditched their landlines in favor of cell phones years ago. It doesn’t do any harm to use someone else’s telephone identity at the grocery store — they get all of my fuel/turkey points — but it made me think about these numbers we all carry with us.
Long ago, when roaming was a thing, phone numbers changed just about every time you moved. Over time, there’s become less need to change, so we’re increasingly tied to a single string of seven digits, like dog tags around our necks.
Wherever we go, our phone numbers go with us like ghostly shadows. Three-digit area codes cry out our roots, no matter where we go. My contacts list is full of 253s and 414s and 907s and 617s far from home. Wherever we are, those area codes give us away and tell the story of our travels.
Someday, I may give up the old phone number and get my own, grown up grocery store membership, but until I do, a small piece of my personal history lives on. I just hope I don’t run into the other guy with that number in the checkout line.
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Jonny Eberle is a writer, photographer and lover of low, low discounts on his favorite produce. You can share your phone number clinging story in the comments and follow him on Twitter: @jonnyeberle.