The man who tricked time
I’ve never understood daylight saving time. Oh, I know what happens with the hour change in time. I just don’t understand why? I read somewhere that the idea was proposed by Ben Franklin to save candles in winter and by some Englishman who wanted to play golf longer in summer. I also seem to recall it has something to do with milk cows in Indiana although I’ve yet to see a cow, Hoosier, Guernsey, or other, wearing a watch. I do remember Jimmy Carter, in has cardigan by the White House fireplace, urging us to give daylight saving a try during the 1970’s energy crisis.
So, once again, the time for the “fall back” bookend of daylight saving time was nigh. My lovely wife, Grace, wasn’t jazzed by the whole thing which she sees as a precursor to winter. I, on the other hand, just hate changing the time on all our clocks.
Advancing the time one hour at the “spring forward” change isn’t so bad, but moving the clocks back an hour is a bummer. It is especially difficult with digital clocks. Mine don’t have “back” buttons, so one has to advance the time 23 hours, then check the a.m.-p.m. setting, then the day of the week, AND the date to ensure each is still correct. I get tired just thinking about it. And boy, do we have a lot of digital clocks – on the stove, the coffee maker, outdoor lights, sprinklers, radios, alarm clocks, and, well – you get the picture. I began doing finger exercises a week in advance of this autumnal drill.
As T-day neared, I contemplated my attack on the monumental task ahead.
“Have you started changing the clocks?” Grace inquired.
“I’m fixing to get ready to do it.”
“Well, time’s a wasting,” Grace answered, a tad more earnestly.
I poured some Maker’s Mark over ice and sat down to ponder the problem. Bourbon has magical powers to facilitate pondering. And, sure enough, a few sips produced the desired epiphany. There WAS a way to change all the digital clocks at once! Eureka! I felt like Archimedes in the bathtub. As we turned in for bed last Saturday night, Grace asked, “You didn’t change the clocks, did you, Dear?”
I answered swimmingly, “Not yet, but I will…and before dawn.”
“What the heck does that mean?”
“You’ll see,” I chuckled as Grace turned off the light.
My alarm went off at 12:55 a.m. and I sprung from bed ready to work my magic.
“What in heaven’s name are you doing?” Grace inquired, turning on the light.
“Changing the clocks,” I replied, rubbing my hands together.
“At this hour? Are you nuts?”
“They scoffed at Ben Franklin, too,” I answered.
“Go fly a kite,” Grace shot back as she turned off the light and rolled over.
I hustled downstairs – time waits for no one, you know – turning on lights as I made my way toward the utility room. I reached the electrical box at 12:59 – one minute until the witching hour. Checking my watch, I began counting down the seconds until 1 a.m. A few seconds before one o’clock, I tripped the master switch and the house plunged into darkness. A few seconds later, I threw the switch again and the lights came back on. Just as planned, the digital clocks automatically reset themselves to 12:00 a.m. The flashing time was a beautiful sight.
“Grace! Grace!” I hollered, running up the stairs two at a time. “Look at this!”
When I reached the bedroom, Grace was sitting up in bed with her arms folded.
“I just changed all the clocks,” I gasped. “All at once.”
“I want to change my ‘Are you nuts?’ to ‘You are nuts!’ ” she declared.
“No, no, I’m not nuts. Look at the clock. See what time it is?”
“It is after one o’clock in the morning,” Grace said slowly and emphatically.
“Right, but look at the clock. It says 12:02. Isn’t that neat?” I squealed.
Grace just stared at me.
Feeling like a professor at M.I.T., I explained how the clocks had all reset themselves to 12 a.m. when the power was shut off and then turned back on again at 1 a.m. Continuing the lecture and holding my arms up simulating the hands of a large clock, I espoused about how at 2 a.m., when the time “fell back” one hour, the real time would be perfectly aligned with the digital clock time. Grace swiveled her right wrist in a circular manner. “Wind it up, Einstein,” she proclaimed, pulling the blanket over her head.
I, however, was too excited to go back to bed. I went downstairs to the kitchen, fixed a celebratory Maker’s nightcap, and settled in to watch the digital clock on the stove. I imagined this must have been how Edison felt when the first electric light blazed forth. I imagined my picture on the cover of Popular Science, or even as Time’s Person of the Year — The Man Who Tricked Time.
It was somewhere around 1:40 a.m. when everything went black again. The folks at Dominion Energy would later explain that a car ran into pole near a power station in North Charleston. The driver, I read later, was charged with having an open bottle of Maker’s Mark in his car as well as with the damage done to the electrical apparatus. The pole he managed to hit held a transformer box, which when knocked out of commission, tripped some other gizmo that, in turn, triggered the black out. The next day, Dominion proclaimed proudly that power was restored in a matter of minutes. Matter of minutes? MATTER OF MINUTES! Sitting in the pitch-dark kitchen, those minutes were an agonizing eternity. After a few flutters, the lights flickered on. As I feared, the damage felt like a category five storm. All the digital clocks had, once again, reset themselves to 12:00 a.m.
I sat stunned. There was no way to recover. The time trick only worked at 1 a.m. I would now have to reset the clocks by hand in the old manual manner, one by one. Sadly, I trudged upstairs and flopped into bed.
Grace rolled over in the dark. “How’s my big, bad Ben Franklin?”
“It didn’t work,” I sighed.
“Poor Richard,” she soothed, patting my arm, “I’ll help you set the clocks tomorrow.”
In the solitude of the early morning darkness, I mused. Maybe, just maybe, there could be another way to change those darn clocks all at the same time. Finally, I decided to sleep on it. After all, that Saturday night was the one night of the year when I had an extra hour to do just that.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article appeared in the October 24, 2004 edition of The Daniel Island News. It never gets old – unless or until the powers that be put an end to daylight saving time.