You have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
You have a right to remain silent.
You may even have a right to sing the blues.
But you may not be aware of one of your most taken-for-granted rights; it plops onto your porch each year.
The phone book.
The phone companies and their competitors are more than delighted to deliver their profitable business listings to you free of charge. Pacific Bell, which serves the great majority of Orange County and California, has four Yellow Pages competitors in Orange County alone, not including alternative directories in foreign languages or for specialized interests like Christian-, gay- or ecology-friendly businesses.
But for these phone book publishers, the "white pages" are an immense expense with no return. The white pages persist, partly because the state requires phone companies to print and deliver them free to wherever your phone is located under the doctrine that a telephone is useless without telephone numbers.
What began in New Haven, Conn., in 1878 as a single 6-by-9-inch sheet listing the town's telephone subscribers has become the biggest, cheapest series of books in publishing history.
Pacific Bell's Orange County white pages book, which does not include phones south of Newport Beach and Lake Forest, contains about 1,400 pages this year. If the unlisted numbers, about 45% of all subscribers, were included, there would have been closer to 2,500 pages--if that were possible. In reality, printers can't bind a phone book much larger than 2,100 pages, and a goodly number of customers could not lift it.
About a million of the Orange County white pages are printed and distributed each year, a huge undertaking but still a small part of the 35 million books containing 45 billion pages that Pacific Bell publishes each year.
Merced Color Press at Merced in the San Joaquin Valley devotes four huge presses to nothing but Pacific Bell directories and has them running three shifts a day all year. "We try to take weekends off," says a spokesman.
The Orange County white pages come trundling out of the bindery at a rate of 5,000 an hour, and when they're done, the easy part is over.
Then it's up to Jerry Weaver at Product Development Corp., the largest phone book delivery firm in the nation, to deliver the books, usually in November or December (May for South County).
The Orange County job is one of the firm's largest in California, and it must be done by people willing to drive their cars for a piece-work job that lasts only about a month.
"Orange County is real tough to recruit," Weaver says. "Unemployment is low there. We have to assign a field manager with staff in an office down there.
"We advertise through the papers, some direct mailings, advertise in senior citizens periodicals. We do some hand delivery door-to-door, we advertise on the radio stations, we post at the colleges, at community centers, on bulletin boards at all kinds of organizations--anywhere we can."
The result in a typical year is 350 applicants, in a bumper year, 500. "There were several other directories being delivered at the same time, so we're pulling from the same labor pool," Weaver says.
"We get a mixture, people who are transient or in between jobs, retired people. We also have a few people who follow us from area to area and distribute for us."
Routes are sized according to how many directories can be shoved into a standard-size sedan, but the distributors can have as many routes as they want, Weaver says. They are paid according to how many households they supply, "but we try to make it so people get the equivalent of $6 to $8 an hour." Distributors pay their car expenses.
In the old, old days, you had to pay if you wanted a second copy of the directory. Nowadays, if you want a \o7 dozen \f7 more directories, no problem. Weaver will have placed a stack of them for the taking at some nearby supermarket or shopping center.
But do you really want more than one? In some areas, people receive four or five phone books from different publishers each year, a total of perhaps 25 pounds of paper and ink. And next year, or maybe sooner, you're going to want to get rid of them.
For the ecologically challenged, it's a simple chore: Toss them in the trash. But, increasingly, cities and counties are trying to discourage this practice, because the books take up so much room at the dump.
In 1994, Pacific Bell started a recycling program for its directories, and now 20 cities in Orange County are participating. Last year, Laguna Beach alone sent 66 tons of old phone books to the pulping mills.
Heather Mindel, this region's recycling manager for Pacific Bell, says the linchpin of the effort is the phone company's contract with Daishowa America, the mill in Port Angeles, Wash., that supplies the paper for Pacific Bell directories. The demand for recyclable paper varies and sometimes disappears, but Daishowa has agreed to always buy and recycle the directories.