25 January 2017

Daylight Savings Time!?!

For many struggling with American English, the mnemonic “spring forward, fall back” is more a quirky linguistic truism, rather than a useful directive. Daylight Savings Time is a foreign concept to many new to American shores.

When I came to the States at the ripe age of not-yet-eight, I remember the huge hubbub of my first ‘fall back’…everyone in the nation was instructed to turn their clocks back on a cool fall night.

Having already traveled to about a dozen different countries, and had never experienced this unanimous temporal manipulation, I was shocked. This was the first I’d heard of such a thing. It had to be a new construct. And there I was, right at the start! My not-yet-eight-year-old self felt awed and privileged to be coming to America for this momentous occasion, this time of saving.

Had I voiced this budding pride to my family or teachers, someone might have shined some daylight on the facts. Instead, I quietly waited with anticipation for each biannual change.

As a kid I ran around the house two Saturdays a year, checking and calibrating all available time pieces; counting down the seconds to change each exactly on the hour, setting mom and dad’s watches on their wrists, turning the flip-number clock radio in my bedroom, and balancing on the dining room chair to get the last wall clock in our Brooklyn apartment in exact sync with the other timepieces. It was my duty as a new resident in this fantastic country.

It’s embarrassing to say that I held this simple notion for years. It just never came up. Or perhaps I chose not to listen to context clues (someone saying, ‘dangit…every single year I always forget and oversleep” for example).

It turns out that Daylight Savings Time was a grandad of US policy long before the Reagan years. In the beginning, 1918, it was called “Fast Time” when the concept was first introduced. This law was enacted to support the American WWI efforts. As with many things, we borrowed the idea from the UK. Seven months after the law was enacted, it was repealed. True-to-form, rogue cities like New York and Boston took to the idea and kept the law.

I always imagine a stereotypical nuclear family driving across state borders, in their Studebaker stacked with luggage, and hungry from a long journey; they pull up to the lot of a NYC deli, having not eaten since ta hot porridge breakfast hours earlier. They pile out of the car, stretching legs and backs, then approach the door just as the proprietor flips the sign “Lunch is Over”. Not particularly funny—or accurate—but the quirks of national, state, and local laws always set my imagination wandering.

Anyway, 40-ish years after that initial repeal, FDR enacted year-round Daylight Savings Time. The rest is history.

Images: Lake Montabello, Baltimore, 50s family source
Full disclosure: I was actually not-yet-seven when I came first encountered Daylight Savings Time, but that phrase has one too many syllables in it for my liking. .