Reflections on time zones
    Photo by Robbert van der Steeg on Flickr, licensed under the Creative Commons.

    Few things in this world fascinate me as much as time. We all know it’s a subjective man made construct that tries to artificially assign labels to something that is un-label-able. Nothing about 5 p.m. is inherently five or p.m., yet it arbitrarily has the identity of the time billions of people across the planet get off of work. That’s pretty cool. Something that fascinates me more than time, however, are time zones.

    I’m from the East Coast, undeniably the better coast, where we live on Eastern Standard Time. So going to school in Chicago, in Central Time, seems almost like a punishment for something I’ve done, a step down if you will. Don’t even get me started on Mountain and Pacific Time. When I look up at the sky, the sun is in a radically different position for me than it is when one of my friends back home looks up. I’m used to prime time TV shows airing at 9 p.m., not this 8 p.m. Central crap. It’s weird to hear an ad for a show that runs at 9/8 Central and knowing I’m now part of the latter population. I’m almost ashamed of myself.

    I remember wondering when I was little if Y2K was going to kill us (because you know it totally was going to kill us) all at once, when England rang in the new year or if the global destruction would come in clearly defined stages, wreaking havoc on each time zone as their clocks made the giant leap from 11:59 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. I remember the worst nightmare I’ve ever had was a dream where the planet got destroyed at 6 p.m., but it was divided by time zone, so the East Coast and all of my loved ones were destroyed. I basically had to chill out and sit on my ass for an hour before it was finally my time to go.

    I have an ongoing joke with a friend of mine back home where she’ll text me after midnight Eastern Time, when it’s still 11 p.m. where I am, telling me in all caps, “DON’T WORRY, THE FUTURE IS SAFE.” Whenever I’m iChatting with a friend and she informs me that it’s 11:11 p.m. and I should make a wish, I tell her I need to wait another hour before I’ll be able to. Whenever I send a friend a birthday text I always send it at 11:01 p.m., knowing that while it’s still yesterday where I am today, it’s actually tomorrow and his birthday where he is. And when I went home early for spring break and had to send an email out over my dorm’s listserv, I made sure to do it in that precious hour between midnight and 1 a.m. when it was still yesterday for the sorry suckers back in the dorm.

    I strongly feel that a time change is a better illustration of distance than mileage. It didn’t really hit me that I was going to a school far away until I had to change my computer clock’s “nearest city” setting from Philadelphia to Chicago and saw it gain an hour. I really feel like Chicago is farther away from my house than, say, Miami, even though it clearly isn’t, because Chicago is in a different time zone and Miami still has the luxury of being an East Coast city. It may only be a two-hour flight back home, but sometimes it takes three and sometimes it takes one. It makes me feel like I’m a million miles away from home, scared and lost and all alone.

    It’s difficult for me not to think of the East Coast as the future. Realistically it’s where my future lies, as I am and always will be an East Coast kid who will most likely move to D.C. or Philly or Brooklyn a few years after graduation. My current life plan (I came up with it last week and it will most likely be obsolete in the coming one) is to teach English at a university in Spain, which is of course several hours ahead of us and several years ahead of me in my future.

    This weekend I flew home for a few important doctor’s appointments because apparently there are no doctors in Chicago. Most of my friends were already done with school, so I was able to see them and laugh like the good old days. And now I’m sitting here writing this essay on an airplane, mid-flight, taking me back to school and back an hour into the past. One hour for the one month I have left at school until I can return to my home on the East Coast and the future magically becomes the present again. Still, however, this weekend was good. I was able to see most of my friends and see what life is like after your freshman year of college.

    And I don’t really know what I was expecting, but I guess I thought it would be somehow different than before. I thought we would all be civilized and artsy and sophisticated, educated college students now, shadows of our past high school selves. But the movie nights and the Pizza Hut and the cruising around in my car with no real destination were exactly the same — nothing had changed at all. And as someone who has experienced both, I can say the future looks just like the past, if only a little more unwritten. As my friend back home would reassure us all, don’t worry. The future is safe.


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