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Crown Vics and Area Codes: Appreciating the Great Equalizers

by on January 15, 2020 5:00 AM


In an earlier portion of my career I worked in New York City for a number of years, commuting in to Manhattan every weekday from the suburbs. From way out in the suburbs – Yardley, Pennsylvania, in Bucks County – to be exact. In the years since we moved from Yardley to Happy Valley I’ve needed to go into the city on an irregular basis. I wrote about one such trip just a few weeks ago.

These visits have given me the opportunity to notice the ever-changing landscape within Manhattan — people, buildings, signage and vehicles. Some of these changes are exciting, some interesting, some humorous, and some make me a bit nostalgic.  

One that makes me very nostalgic is the loss of Ford Crown Victorias. For those who are uninitiated to Manhattan, the vehicle that was the iconic yellow NYC taxi for years was a Ford Crown Victoria. It also served as the primary vehicle for the New York City Police Department. And its upscale sibling, the black Lincoln Town Car, was the classic limo used by car service firms. Thousands of “Crown Vics” and “Town Cars” — as the locals referred to them — cruised the streets of Manhattan daily and were always visible. 

Except, not any more. On a trip into the city last year it was the first time I was ever in Manhattan that I did not see a single yellow Crown Vic taxi.

The reason I didn’t see any was that in 2011 Ford closed the manufacturing plant that made them. In the ensuing years the supply dwindled, and New York City went in search of a replacement icon for its classic yellow taxi. It didn’t want to change, but it had to. Initially the expectation was that a Nissan NV-200 van was going to become the "Taxi of Tomorrow," and all drivers would be required to use it. Government regulation being what it is, this did not come to pass quite as expected, so there are currently a menagerie of yellow vehicles driving around Manhattan serving as cabs. Ford Escape Hybrids and Transit Connects, Nissan Altimas and NV200 vans, and Toyota Priuses, Highlanders, Camrys and Siennas.

One of the reasons I get nostalgic for the Crown Vic is because I’m 6-foot-4 and weigh a score or two over 200 lbs. The Crown Vic had a wide bench seat in back with lots of legroom and an extremely comfortable ride that was perfectly suited to a big guy like me. But one of the other reasons having only Crown Vics as cabs was the egalitarian nature of taking one. 

The New York Times labeled the Crown Vic as the “great equalizer of the varied urban tribe.” It was the equivalent of the assigned uniform at school – everyone wore the exact same thing which minimized judging of one another.

Because in case you haven’t noticed, many of us in society can be judgmental. And New Yorkers can be judgmental in ways those of us in Happy Valley can’t begin to imagine. What used to be a non-decision by the vast majority of New Yorkers – you took a Crown Vic – now offers the possibility of choice and the incumbent judgment (should I wait for a Prius to show I’m concerned about the environment?). The great equalizer is no more. 

Luckily we have no such similar worries of this type of judgment police out here in Happy Valley. 

Which brings to mind another judgment New Yorkers have been making for years that we in Happy Valley have never had to make – the judgment that is made when you give someone your phone number.

In New York, if your phone number starts with a 212 area code you are viewed as semi-royalty. It was the first Manhattan area code and was issued in 1947. This is followed by those with a 718 or 917 area code which were issued in 1984 and 1992 respectively. Technically 718 is for the four non-Manhattan boroughs of the city — Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island — but with the portability of cell phone numbers, when you give someone your area code as 718 anyone under the age of 40 will just assume you are from Manhattan. When 917 was issued it was created to cover all five boroughs. If your phone number starts with one of those three area codes, people will think of you as a true New Yorker and judge you accordingly. 

But out here in Happy Valley we only have one area code: 814. It is the great equalizer of our varied rural tribe. It has remained unchanged since its inception in 1947. It has not been split or overlaid with an additional area code. Outside of those states with just one area code – Vermont, for example – it is one of only a few original area codes in the country to survive unscathed. And it is the only area code in the state where we can still dial using only seven digits. That’s right, we can pick up the phone, dial seven digits and get Erie. 

Some of you may recall that back in 2010 the PA Public Utility Commission approved a plan to split the 814 area code, leaving those of us in Happy Valley the lucky recipients of the 814 area code and giving Erie and our northwestern brethren a new 582 area code. However, it turned out we weren’t running out of numbers as fast as they expected and they essentially tabled the whole idea. Although it might come back some day, for now we are all 814ers.


John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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