Thursday, October 04, 2007

Time's up

I've been dumped. By a longtime--even a lifetime--acquaintance. What's worse, I found out from a recording.

I happened to call a couple of weeks ago, at about 6:00 AM (though I didn't know it was 6:00 AM until after, when I got out of bed, booted up the computer, and checked the time online). I called for the same reason I have been calling for 25 or 30 years now. To find out what time it was. Our power had gone out 3 hours before, and when all things electronic came whooshing and whirring quietly back to life, I wanted to reset the bedside alarm clock so we could get another fitful hour's sleep.

I reached for the phone, dialed the number, and waited to hear her voice: "At the tone, the time will be..." punctuated reliably with a perfectly-calibrated BEEP.

Instead, I was greeted with the 3-note tone for a disconnected number, followed by:

“Effective September 19th, 2007, the time announcement information service has been discontinued. We apologize for any inconvenience."

I was stunned. And then saddened. I know, I know--you're probably "having trouble accessing my pain," as Teresa put it. While I am apt to form great sentimental attachments where others might not, there's more to it than that. The time lady has always been there, dutifully announcing the hour and minute, in ten-second increments, for as long as I can remember, no matter what else has changed in the world around me. I grew up and still live in Southern California, where ancient history is last month.

I learned the number as a kid: 853- followed by any four digits. From any area code. I even remember playing a game with my sister, where we'd call time and try to hit it at the golden moment: "...o'clock. Exactly." BEEP. When I went away to college in northern California, it was the same time lady, though the number was different. (It spelled, whimsically, P-O-P-C-O-R-N.)

While everyone else moved on to cellphone-, Internet- and other forms of timekeeping, I continued to rely on the occasional-to-frequent bouts of calling time. The time lady has just always been there, and it seemed like she always would. Such a constant that I never stopped to think about where she came from, how she came to be there, or whether it was possible that she'd ever go away.

Now I know the time lady spent 78 years here in California. She was born in Chicago in 1928. She performed her daily, redundant duty courtesy of the phone company, and was, at her heyday, available in 22 states. She'll continue on, for a little while at least, only in Nevada. (Which is perhaps a little ironic, considering how the major industry in that state depends on keeping the passage of time, or your awareness of it, hidden from consciousness. But that's another post.)

No matter all my high-tech options for marking time, the time lady was the first and the longest-lived. She was good to me. I'll miss her.