Alexander Graham Bell, Call Home

How the communications era came to a crash in Hinsdale, Ill.

The good news in Hinsdale last week: teenagers did not tie up the telephone lines. The bad news: there were no lines.

Since a Mother's Day fire destroyed a major Illinois Bell switching station west of Chicago, 35,000 people have learned how inconvenient and nearly unmanageable modern life can be without phones. Fax machines went down. Credit-card verification systems blinked out. Automatic cash machines popped up electronic apologies: OUT OF SERVICE. Houses were not sold, dental appointments not made, pizza not ordered.

This communications Stone Age disconnected more than Hinsdale. More than half a million other suburban residents could not make...

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