Soon We Will All Be Saskatchewan

Having grown up in a place that didn't observe Daylight Saving Time, the universe-bending phenomenon of either springing forward or falling back was new to me when I first experienced it as an adult. Maybe my expectations were too high about what would happen that first night, but I remember feeling disappointed driving down I-95 past a time-temperature clock and seeing "2:05" when I knew that it was just five after one in the morning. I imagined that clock would go straight from 1:59 to 1:00; discovering that those things had to be manually reset like some dopey clock radio was a big letdown.

Since then, I always hoped to find a bar that took advantage of "fall back" to stay open an extra hour. It seems like a great promotion but it has never happened to me during the handful of times when I've found myself in an establishment that late on the last Saturday in October. (No matter — I created an idealized version of this scenario anyway for the song "Song For The Last Sunday In October" — MP3 here in case you're interested; I'm still pissed that Congress made this song title obsolete, though I admit it wouldn't be all that difficult to simply retitle it "Song For The First Sunday In November.")

In fact, the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control actually specifically addressed this issue in California:

On the day that a time change occurs from Pacific Standard time to Pacific Daylight time or back again to Pacific Standard time, "2 o'clock a.m." means two hours after 12 o'clock a.m. of the day preceding the day such change occurs. (Section 25631)

Talk about having no fun at all! (Thanks to Yelper "Chris 'The Other White Meat' B." for the citation.)

The dirty little secret about Daylight Saving Time is that it creates an unnatural moment at the end of October — or since 2007, the beginning of November — when the sun rises really late into the morning. If you check the calendar, you'll see that Saturday, November 6 will be the latest sunrise time in many, many years — maybe ever, now that I think about it. In New York, this means that the sun will rise at 7:31 a.m.

I didn't think about this all that much until I worked for a school district and became friendly with the district's transportation coordinator, who hipped me to the fact that the time the sun rises is latest on the days just before Daylight Saving Time ends. This — to me at least — is somewhat counterintuitive — you expect days to be shortest up to and around December 21, and the sun to be rising later then. It turns out that the sun won't be this late again until December 31, when it will rise around 7:20 a.m. for a week or so — still earlier than at the beginning of November.

His point back then was that it was difficult to schedule buses, because guidelines for scheduling generally included a proviso of something along the lines of "Walking to and from school or the bus stop at any time prior to one-half hour before sunrise or any time one-half hour after sunset shall be deemed hazardous for pupils in grades K through 8" (that's from Connecticut Regional School District #10 Board Policy 3541.2, a version of which I found here, but it's basically what I remember him saying — I was under the impression that it was a statewide, if not a nationwide, guideline).

So you see, for a school transportation coordinator, making Daylight Saving Time later makes things even more complicated than they already were. The transportation coordinator I knew was one of the most nervous people I had ever met. And one of the most detail-oriented people I ever met. And the finest example of someone who inherently trusted policies or rules, and in applying those policies or rules evenly across the board, even as he worked in one of the most pressure-filled environments known to humankind — parents bitching about their kids' school bus service. (He also passed away way too soon and for no good reason at all; it still makes me sad to think about it.)

The transportation coordinator I knew taught me a lot about trusting policies. It would have been a lot easier for him in the short term to grant every whiny parent's special request or exception but he knew that it would be a lot worse in the long term to be that loose. This is something that a lot of administrators — in any organization — can be unwilling to do. (It only gets worse the further up you go, because those in charge tend to want the "little problems" to quickly and easily somehow go away, which is when bad things happen.) He'd have example after example of this parent or that parent leaning on him to get a special exception, and often going over his head to get whatever it was they wanted, but he never backed down from "the policy." I was younger then and generally more offended by things, and I'd be outraged, but he never complained and never badmouthed parents; even though he never had children, he got that protecting a child was in a parent's DNA, and even if he never backed down, I think he always gave them the benefit of the doubt, which is a lesson I still don't think I fully appreciate.

The transportation coordinator I knew didn't get involved in making policies, just applying them, which is a heroic quality of sorts that is often overlooked. The greatest human advancement — beyond obvious stuff like medicine, democracy or iPods — is the notion that people across society will be treated equally and fairly. And even though "policies" and "bureaucracies" are often maligned, there's something important about the philosophy behind those policies — they exist to ensure that people aren't getting haphazard treatment.

I'm guessing that there were few people in Congress who bothered to think about or ask school transportation coordinators how changing Daylight Saving Time again would affect what they have to do. The closest thing I could find after an abbreviated search is this sample op-ed/letter to the editor for National School Bus Safety Week titled "Making Daylight Savings Time Safe for Kids," which doesn't even get into the half of it (see page 22 of this .pdf):

As autumn turns toward winter, we know the days are growing shorter. When we change our clocks from Daylight Savings Time back to Standard Time in the Fall, it will be dark even earlier. But what we may not realize is that this also means that more children will be traveling to and from school in the dark, which puts them at greater risk of injuries from traffic crashes. Over half of all fatal pedestrian crashes and over one fourth of fatal bicycle crashes involving school age children (ages 5 through 18) occur in low light or dark conditions.

One thing I saw on the Daylight Saving Time Wikipedia entry that blew my mind was that the extension of Daylight Saving Time in 1986 was heavily lobbied for by entities like Barbecue Industry Association and 7-Eleven. No, for real — they argued that more daylight meant more soda and charcoal sales. I was going to make a quip about Halloween, but it turns out that the candy industry had actually been weighing in for years to extend Daylight Saving Time past October 31.

(By the way, Canada seems to conceive of Daylight Saving Time differently, referring to "Winter Time Zones" and "Summer Time Zones". This could be because the entire province of Saskatchewan is somehow on Daylight Saving Time all year long — that boggles my mind almost as much as the International Date Line. In other Canadian Daylight Saving Time trivia, Newfoundland, which is normally UTC+3 hours and 30 minutes, changes over at 12:01 a.m. instead of 2:00 a.m.)

Ultimately, it's a testament to the power of stupid ideas and idle B.S. that something that started out essentially as a joke ultimately became a Congressionally legislated reality. This is from Benjamin Franklin's letter to a Paris editor about the idea:

I considered that, if I had not been awakened so early in the morning, I should have slept six hours longer by the light of the sun, and in exchange have lived six hours the following night by candle-light; and, the latter being a much more expensive light than the former, my love of economy induced me to muster up what little arithmetic I was master of, and to make some calculations, which I shall give you, after observing that utility is, in my opinion the test of value in matters of invention, and that a discovery which can be applied to no use, or is not good for something, is good for nothing.

For me, "BFF" is not something Paris Hilton has but rather "Ben Fucking Franklin" — used to denote yet another goddamn thing that man's tentacles reach.

Posted: November 1st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Shiftless When Idle | Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.