“Welcome to Cityline!”

Before we really had the internet and podcasts as a limitless fount of information, the residents of my hometown had Cityline. I loved Cityline. It was a phone system done by the local newspaper where you used a directory to call and listen to information. It was updated regularly and had some great regional info and some fun syndicated content.

The earliest mention of it I could find was from this USA Today newsgroup post archived on MIT’s website from 1992:

   The Brite Voice Systems Inc. says it has sold a Cityline system 
to the Spokane (Wash.) Chronicle & Spokesman-Review. The system 
provides a variety of telephone information services to the 
Spokane market. Spokane Chronicle & Spokesman-Review serves 
Western Washington and Northern Idaho. It is owned by Cowles 
Publishing Co.

That’s pretty dry, but from my research was kind of a unique move on the part of the Spokesman-Review. And the Spokesman-Review used the heck out of it. Searching around in their archives you can find many articles that reference it. “Call Cityline to hear a song!” “What do you think? Call Cityline and leave us a message!” It’s all over the place.

Thanks to Google News and the Spokesman-Review, I can show you a clipping of what the Cityline Guide looked like. I think this eventually doubled in size.

A phone tree for a city information line. A variety of topics are listed with phone numbers.

As a kid, I know I called up and listened to the comedy recordings, which were usually a person doing a bit with a funny voice or a lame joke. Mr. Science’s World of the Really Amazing I remember checking out every week. The trivia games were good, too – you would answer by pressing a number on your phone. It was interactive in a basic way. There was choose your own adventure style stories later on, listed under the heading, “Adventure Stories”. I had forgotten that, but reading this reddit thread jogged my memory. There were also mini-soap operas, if my memory serves me. It updated the entertainment pieces weekly, so I can remember looking forward to dialing in and listening to the latest installment of my Cityline numbers.

Sometimes you’d end up stuck in one section of the phone tree and you’d have to hang up and try again. Sometimes you’d find a neglected number that hadn’t been updated in some time. There was also entering a random number, too, and seeing where it led you. I’m sure I tried to listen to all the extensions at one point.

And the voice of the main announcer… I can still remember it. I tried valiantly to find any recording of Cityline but they just don’t exist. The latest mention I can find of Cityline is from a Spokesman-Review article in 1998. Googling the number shows it was acquired by a local cinema, which is kind of a smart move when people are used to dialing it up for movie times.

I just told my husband I was blogging about this. “It was the thing I would call up on the phone when I was bored with no friends around.” He made a face. “It’s really dumb and dorky.” He agreed. But you know what? It kept me company. It was a formative part of my pre-teen years. I was informed and probably slightly obsessed with it.

RIP, Cityline. Thanks for the memories.


About the time I pretended to be my own Swedish twin.

Today I am visiting a local social media conference. (Hello world!) Since there might be new visitors to the blog, I thought I’d share a good one this week. So here it is: the story of the time I pretended to be my own Swedish twin. This might be painfully awkward to read. You’ve been warned.

This takes place around the fourth grade, which means I was about 8 or so. My brother hung out with the Bergston boys who lived a block away from our house. Their parents were both very fit, very wealthy accountants, if my memory serves me, so they had all the best outdoor toys. Moonshoes. Rollerblades.  A trampoline. Basketball hoop. Everything.

I was a girl, so I was of course NOT ALLOWED. Sometimes I’d go over pretending to need to find my brother… then I’d just hang out for awhile. “Oh? I uh. Mom said to make sure to drink a lot of water. Are… are those moonshoes? Do you use them while on the trampoline so I can jump super high?” My true intentions were always quickly discovered and I was chased off.

One time I came over to the house looking for my brother and he wasn’t there. The usual namecalling and uncomfortableness commenced and I hurried back home. But this time was different. This time I decide to do something truly ridiculous.

I was going to charm them, not as Lauren… but as my Swedish twin.

I’ve been wracking my brain trying to recall the fake name I used, and I keep coming back to Vilka. I’m fairly sure that was it. I would make them laugh as Vilka, they’d see how cool I was, and we’d hang out and I’d be doing flips on that sweet trampoline in no time!

For some reason at this point in my life my mother dressed me in ridiculous sweaters. Usually black, with pictures knitted into them of cats or flowers in red, purple, or white. Why did she do this? To ensure my reputation as a total buzzkill and coolness ruiner? Who knows. I had been wearing a t-shirt, but changed into a sweater to feel more eccentric (as I imagined Swedes to be). I am like a quarter Swedish, but I’ve never met any of those people, so I was pulling the whole charade straight out of my ass. I managed to find a pair of thick framed glasses to complete the illusion, and charged out the door.

I walked up to the Bergstons boys and announced that I was Vilka, Lauren’s swedish twin. I was wondering if they’d seen Lauren around.

The best part might have been the accent I affected. Think of the Swedish Chef if he was from Minnesota and couldn’t stop bouncing up and down.

The boys immediately started poking holes into my story.

“How are you Swedish and her twin? Lauren isn’t Swedish.”

“Uh, I wus sent oooh-ver seas!”

“Why didn’t we hear about you before?”

“I wus a secret!”

“Can Lauren and you show up here at the same time?”

“Uh uh uh uh… if I cun find her!”

The boys told me I was full of crap, but like any true performer I never broke character. I thanked them for their time, cheerful as can be, and bounced down the street, still certain that I had charmed them on some level.

A few minutes later I showed up as Lauren asking if they’d seen Vilka. I was told to shut up and leave. So I did.

The time I was almost-but-not-even-close-to famous.

My mom was always banking on us growing up and being famous. I was a 24 hour variety show for many years of my childhood. And while my mom constantly reminded me that there were no hidden cameras to be hamming it up for, I think we were always her hope to leave the Northwest and move to Hollywood.

My childhood living room had a fireplace that was on an elevated platform made of bricks with a spotlight mounted above it. This was no doubt there to illuminate some family photo with everyone’s smiling doughy cherub faces beaming as the family is gathered in matching sweaters, but there was no such photo of my family. So instead it was my stage, and it being the 90s, the brick background and spotlight made it perfect for me to put on my best Seinfeld impression and do a little stand up. The act was extremely short and extremely regional humor… the region being our house.

“What’s the deal with Buster the Dog (our dog)? He wants to go outside. Then he wants to come back in. Out, in, out, in. Make up your mind dog! WELL THAT’S BEEN ME THANKS SO MUCH” Mild chuckling from my family. The late show with the same crowd didn’t elicit the same response and so my barely two minute act was retired.

But my mom never lost hope. Once, while attending a local black box theatre show, my mom was chatting up one of the actors during the intermission. I walked up, candy bar in hand, and my mom started talking me up. How our little Lauren was hoping to be an actor some day. “She has the face of an ingénue!” the actress proclaimed, which my mom took to be confirmation of my future stardom. I had no idea what it meant.

“You have such a young, innocent face, and you’ll always look young.” I shrugged and munched on my candy bar. I’ve had many such encounters while eating something. Someone once asked me for a copy of my resume while I had a rice krispy treat hanging out of my mouth. …this was like three years ago.

But the problem that plagued me then, and still plagues me now? Crippling anxiety. I enjoy improv and singing, that silly spur of the moment stuff. But stick me in front of an audience to do something rehearsed and I come apart. I psyche myself out.

When I was eight and my brother was six, Mom took us to a slightly seedy hotel hosting a kind of modeling star search. I think this was her last ditch effort to try to see if she could ring some cash out of us. My brother was starting to lose his baby teeth, which all of the paperwork we were filling out expressly said not to bring any children with missing teeth. They were not worth it because they would not be selected, and since there was an entrance fee, it’d just be as waste of money. She did it anyway.

Once the paperwork was turned in we waited. I remember the waiting being agony. There were lots of kids there, but they looked a lot more… well, dolled up than we were. Costumes, make up, the works. I put on a hand-me-down dress of my sisters and had my hair brushed and was told to smile at all times. I also seem to remember my mother listing that I had special talents like acting and dancing and “she’s quite funny!” with a smiley face in my mother’s signature loopy handwriting. (My chicken scratch is still probably a rebellion against that handwriting.)

Finally, we were called up. First was a basic photo test. Much like kiddie mugshots, we were asked to look forward and smile, then to turn to the side and smile. “Great, thank you!” and off to more hours of sitting and waiting.

Sometime later we were called up again and asked to get in line. We’d walk down a runway, stop, say our name, our age, our favorite color, and something we liked, and walk back. My brother trounced down the walk, snaggletooth on full display. He stopped, rattled off his answer, and walked back. My mother enthusiastically hooped and hollered in the back. Then it was my turn. My turn to bungle the job.

I walked down the catwalk with an eye on precision, but wanted to look casual. This meant that my arms were swinging but my legs were doing a kind of robot tin soldier metered… thing. And I was staring at my feet. I stopped and looked up to my panel of judges. Again, a desire to be accurate but coupled with CRIPPLING ANXIETY.

“Hi, I’m Lauren. I’m eight years old. My favorite color is actually three: white, pink, and blue. And I like… um…” A stumble! And they were writing notes! OH GOD. “Ilikedogsthankyouverymuch.” I bolted back down the runway, my mother’s cheering at my back.

I was not invited to become a “star”. My brother, however, SNAGGLETOOTH AND ALL, was asked to join them. Alas, his road to stardom was soon ended as my mother discussed the details of modeling and acting program they offered, which (of course) had a tuition of several thousand dollars we could never afford. She was irate she could not get some kind of discount or guarantee he would be on TV and soon we were piled into the minivan and driven home, only then my mother cursing the program for what a sham it was.

Sometimes I ponder that life where Little Lauren was a star. In the 90s, child stars where everywhere. Our sitcoms, our game shows, our children’s variety shows. I could have been somebody! But after seeing how many of these kids turned out? I’m kind of glad I’m nobody.