Daylight Saving Time: Does Anybody Here Really Know What Time It Is?     by Marjorie Dorfman

Where did the idea of daylight saving time come from anyway? What does it do and why? Read on for some answers and a laugh or two.

At the back of the Daylight Saving scheme I detect the bony hand of Puritanism, eager to push people into bed earlier and earlier to make them healthy, wealthy and wise in spite of themselves.     Robertson Davies

Forcing the sun to set one hour later may conserve energy, but for lovers of moonlight there are other schools of thought. Some would argue that we are not saving daylight at all, but rather subjecting ourselves to the semi-annual inconvenience of changing many clocks and adjusting to a new sleep schedule, whether we have insomnia or not. Also, believe it or not, Daylight Saving Time is a singular phenomenon. It is not Daylight Savings Time, which might be the perfect name for a bank whose funds are available only from sunup to sundown. "Saving" is singular and not plural. If this is clear, allow me to assure you that what follows is not and has little chance of ever becoming so. Speaking for myself, Daylight Saving Time, whether alone or in company, is a grand old pain in the lower extremities!

Where on earth did this concept come from anyway? For millions of years, people have measured the passing of time based on the position of the sun. It was always noon when the sun was highest in the sky, (except for High Noon, when Gary Cooper was too busy warding off the bad guys to even notice what time it was). Sundials gave way to mechanical clocks, but the one problem was always that every city was on a slightly different time. The idea of saving daylight was first conceived by Benjamin Franklin and penned in his 1784 essay: An Economic Project. Great Britain, however, was the very first country to set one standard time throughout an entire region. This was done by the railroads to synchronize their schedules, the first one to do so being The Great Western in November of 1840. Standard time and time zones gradually took hold in the United States and Canada because of their practical advantages for communication and travel.

During World War II, the United States observed year round Daylight Saving Time from February 2nd, 1942 to September 30th, 1945. From 1945 to 1966, there was no federal law concerning its regulation. States and localities observed and didn’t observe and could choose when it began or ended, leaving it all up to whether or not the local magistrates had bad hair days, cramps, splinters, hangnails or fights with their respective spouses. The Uniform Time Act of 1966 established a system (within each time zone, that is) of Daylight Saving Time throughout the US and its possessions, exempting only those states in which the legislatures opted to keep the entire state on standard time. These include Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin islands, the Eastern Time Zone portion of the state of Indiana and the state of Arizona, except for the Navaho Indian Reservation, which does observe. I trust this makes perfectly obscure sense to you, just as it does to me.

In the good old USA, the clocks "spring ahead" in the Spring and "fall back" in the Fall. They change arbitrarily at 2AM because it was felt that most people are in the land of Nod at this hour, far away from consciousness and care about the disruption of schedules. Supposedly, 2AM is late enough to minimally affect bars and restaurants from "switching to yesterday," also known as "crying in one’s beer," which could happen easily if one hangs around bars at that hour anyway!

I have never understood exactly where that extra hour goes. Is it in the same place as those ten pounds I keep losing every year and gaining back every other year? Or maybe they both found a home with all the lost gloves, earrings and umbrellas in the world? Is everything floating somewhere in the ether of the air just waiting for a chance to return and cause havoc? What if I no longer want them in my life? How can I keep them away? I suppose that I can’t and that time and clocks are always going to be a source of trouble for me as the following true to life experiences will illustrate.

About three years ago, I arrived at the stable where I kept my horse for an 8AM trail ride scheduled with four other riders. It was a clear, crisp October Sunday, the morning after the 2AM switchover the night before. I had not listened to the news before going to bed and therefore forgot to set the clocks an hour back. When I arrived bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, there was not another soul or car in sight and the horses were sound asleep in their stalls! That’s because it was 6:30 and not 7:30AM. I sat in my car until the other riders arrived and everyone had a good laugh on me, even the horses. I went home and inquired of everyone I met what time it was. Everyone told me something different, and until I could synchronize the correct time with the television, all of the clocks in my house were set at different times.

You would have thought I would have learned from that, n’est ce pas? Well, this year I was foiled again. I had the same excuse; failure to listen to the evening news because I was depressed enough without adding terrorists and anthrax to my daily list of problems before going to sleep. I had made an appointment with a friend for lunch at a local restaurant at 1PM on the Sunday after the switchover, (a dangerous appointment day, it would seem). My friend had set her clock an hour ahead instead of back and arrived an hour late. (At least she remembered to set her clock! That’s more than I can say.) I arrived at what I thought was 12:45, making me more than fashionably early. Of course, it was really 11:45, (but 12:45 according to my friend.) I killed some time and returned to the restaurant at precisely 1PM and my friend still wasn’t there. The waitress said she had seen a woman pacing out in front, checking her watch and babbling things about Brooklyn (my hometown). That’s when I called her and found out that she had been waiting for me for almost an hour and then went home. She thought that I had forgotten our appointment. We decided to wait until after daylight saving time to try to meet again. Can you imagine that?

So what can be learned from all this? The truth is that I am not sure that I have learned anything at all, except that it is likely that I will screw up once again when no one is looking. I’ll try to do my part and avoid luncheon appointments and trail rides in the Spring and the Fall. One of these days I might even understand it all, but not right now. I can’t. I don’t have the time; be it Eastern Standard, Rocky Mountain, Pacific, Daylight Saving or Other!.

Did you know . . .

Copyright 2002