Monday, May 16, 2005

What time in Indiana says about people

If you're not familiar with the hyena-craziness of timekeeping in Indiana, read this USA Today article about the brouhaha now that they're finally trying to fix it. The issue is first that different counties, even different streets, disagree about which time zone they're in.

In Santa Claus, Indiana: The grocery store operates on Central Time -- or "slow time," as locals call it. The hardware store next door runs on Eastern Time -- or "fast time." The doctor, newspaper and nearby monastery are on fast time. The schools, churches and post office are on slow time. The American Legion hall has two clocks as a compromise...

Tracy Caddell, the school superintendent in Switzerland County, east of Santa Claus, has his kitchen clock on slow time and his living room clock on fast time. His school system is on slow time (Eastern Standard), but neighboring Ohio County and nearby Cincinnati are on fast time (Eastern Daylight). "The optometrist is on fast time. The dentist is on slow time. Granny's restaurant is on fast time. The post office is on slow time," he says. Wedding invitations and funeral notices specify fast time or slow time. Married couples set clocks to different times on opposite sides of the bed.

The next wrinkle is that, when daylight savings time occurs, different locations disagree about whether to observe it.

..Fast and slow time vary, even if the clock doesn't change. Sometimes fast and slow time are the same. Sometimes they are different. And sometimes fast time is actually slow time... On April 3, Indiana's 10 slow-time (Central) counties went on daylight-saving time and suddenly were on the same time as Indiana's 77 Eastern Standard counties. "For some people, the day the clocks change is almost like Christmas," says Mike Shriefer, transportation director at the Spencer County schools. That same day, though, the five Eastern Daylight counties moved ahead an hour and went out of sync with the state.

If you haven't heard about it before, you might not believe it. But it's all real. Living in Chicago, I'd travel to or through Indiana with no idea what time it was. And still, Hoosiers have been too stubborn to yield or conform, not even to remedy the cause of so many pointless headaches.

First world country, check. Twenty-first century, check. That the situation has lasted this long has to say something about Indiana, but to me it says more about the essential backwardness built into the human animal, the absurd drive to cripple its own best interests not for noble aims, but for the pettiness of municipal committees. The kind of numbskull ideas that got Burger Meister Meister Burger on Santa's bad side in the first place. I'm as insecure and neurotic as anyone, but I don't remember ever taking even false pride in my time zone.

However, Indiana's not alone in bang-your-head-against-the-bricks nonsense. Just recently, I was quizzing an administrative "manager" about the likely and unpleasant outcomes of a silly, unenforeceable policy. She told me she couldn't be expected to answer all these questions about consequences, yeesh. Look in municipal codes and legislations anywhere, and you're going to find buttinski-flavored oversight that makes life harder than it needs to be. It's already common and propogates in the hothouses of petty bureaucracies everywhere. But if this is what humans are, and it sure seems to be how we roll, if only in self-defense, you have to laugh.

I am disappointed about one thing though. Playing with notions of "true time", how to fake out time travel, and overlapping histories, I planned a yet unwritten scifi story around the unique temporal circumstances in Indiana. So much for writing it now. Unless I backdate.

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