Time Travel

Traversing the Florida Panhandle got me to thinking about time travel. The area of the panhandle where we are straddles Eastern and Central Time zones. We’re in Port St. Joe, which is Eastern Time. Drive a few minutes west to Mexico Beach and you find yourself in the Central Time zone. The line that divides time is slightly ragged, so driving due north to Wewahitchka (which is Central Time) complicates things. You flip back and forth an hour at various towns and points along the route which requires some strategic planning. When you look at the map you can see how oddly the time line is drawn–the little nub that is Port St. Joe geographically looks like it should be in Central Time along with the rest of Gulf County. I imagine some kind of wrangling among City Fathers of Franklin and Gulf counties took place long ago when the zones were determined.

Somehow Port St. Joe managed to stay in EST.

The other night we went to Panama City, which is due west, an hour away and in Central Time to see writer/musician Sean Dietrich perform. We left for the show at the time we wanted to arrive. Leave at 4:00 EST, arrive at 4:00 CST. An hour of driving erased in an instant—sort of. Make sense? After the show I knew we would change to Eastern Time somewhere between Tyndall Air Force Base and Mexico Beach. In these modern times my iDevices continually update me on where and when I am, which makes bouncing around time zones a no-brainer. I happened to be looking at my watch at the moment when 7:59 became 8:59. As I watched the number change, a memory appeared. For some reason I feel compelled to share that memory with you.

When I was a kid I traveled regularly with my grandparents, Bill and Bert (Bertha, but grandma hated her name). My parents had full-time jobs and spent their meager spare time doing things like housework and yard work. Road trips with them were few and far between. Bill and Bert were the road warriors in the family, and my parents were only too happy to see them take me away.

My grandmother prepared for car trips as if we were going to Siberia. H For example, her sister Dora lived on the West Side of Cleveland. We lived on the east side. All I knew about the ‘West Side’ was that it was more than 5 minutes away from home, and it was necessary to be ready for disaster. Grandma would pack snacks, something to drink and the very itchy wool granny square blanket she made. It was as colorful as it was itchy, and it drove me nuts when she threw it over my bare legs any time the temperature dipped below 70 degrees. Once the car was prepped, Grandpa would bellow in his best train conductor voice “GET IN THE CAR, WE’RE GOING TO THE WEST SIDE!” The whole excursion to Aunt Dora’s house probably took under 45 minutes depending on traffic and whether we got lucky with the stoplights. That was back before freeways criss-crossed Cleveland, and before every city street had the same gas stations, Cell phone stores, Starbuck’s and UDF store on every corner, and cookie cutter housing developments on every block. Every community had it’s own look and neighborhood joints, and I stared out the window as we sped to Aunt Dora’s.

I’m not the only one obsessed with time travel

One summer I was told we were to visit Cousin Lena. I was around 6 years old; mature enough to remember the things that impressed me, but too young to retain useful details. Cousin Lena lived west of Cleveland. She lived so far west that she was in another state and a different time zone. That was the first anyone had told me that places in the United States had other times. That blew my 6-year-old mind. Even more astounding, we were to stay overnight for two days! Cousin Lena lived on a farm in Indiana, and it would take several hours to get there. This was the biggest adventure in my short life. I’d never slept away from home. My grandmother packed like we were going to the moon. There were suitcases, an enormous cooler and she armed herself against kid boredom with games like 20 questions, I spy with my little eye, license plate bingo, silly songs and so forth. I was prone to car sickness, so I was not allowed to read anything, not even the Joe Bazooka comic on my bubble gum wrapper. I was stoked about the time change thing. I was told that Cousin Lena had a big farm and lots of animals and all that stuff, but I was all ‘bring on the time change experience baby!’ The idea that time COULD change was novel to me. As we drove across ever-flatter terrain and in between watching for Burma Shave signs (yes, I’m that old), games and bathroom stops I pelted my grandfather with questions. “Has the time changed yet? Who decided where the time zones are? How will we know when it’s changed? Will we feel it….?,” and on until Grandpa pounded the steering wheel and bellowed “I’LL TELL YOU WHEN IT HAPPENS. BERT, GIVE THAT KID SOMETHING TO DO!” My grandfather was a champ at bellowing. He was mightily bothered by drivers that didn’t meet his standards and would bellow at them in German.

The whole time change thing turned out to be anti-climactic. At some point we stopped at a gas station sandwiched between a walls of corn. Grandpa pointed out the big clock that hung in all gas station windows back in the day and told me we ‘lost an hour.’ I was shocked. I had expected a time zone change to be something big—like going over a bridge or crossing a giant line with ‘Eastern Time’ printed on one side and ‘Central Time’ on the other. I also expected that everything in this new state and time zone would look different, though I’m not entirely sure I can tell you what my 6-year-old self expected. What I remember was that my disappointment was massive. The visit wasn’t a total loss of course. I remember having fun as the only child present which put me at the center of everyone’s attention; that is the goal of every 6-year-old. On the way home, I slept through the time zone crossing. I had become a jaded world-weary first-grader. It was the first time I recall being let down by my expectations.

As we crossed into Mexico Beach I reflected on the hour I gained earlier that evening. It’s too bad you can’t use those hours you gain or lose in travel to have a do-over or even better, a never-happened.

2 thoughts on “Time Travel

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