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August 25, 2014

At the Tone, the Time will be . . .

Filed under: Main — admin @ 12:01 am

When I need to know the time, I whip out my phone. That’s exactly what I did when I was a kid as well: I’d whip out the phone. That was decades before cell phones existed.

Okay, it wasn’t a “whipping out” action, but I’d use the family phone — the one affixed to the wall in the kitchen — to determine the current time.

I’ve never been a watch person. My aunt bought me a watch for my 10th birthday. I felt obligated to wear it everywhere, until it broke. I’ve shunned watches ever since, although occasionally I get one as a gift, I’m just used to asking someone else for the time, or finding a convenient clock.

With the dawn of the smartphone, I no longer have to ask; the phone keeps accurate track of the time. So when I need to know the time, I whip out my phone, unlock it, check email, then lock it and put it back in my pants.

Then I remember that I forgot to check the time, so I whip out the phone again, check the time, lock it and put it back in my pants.

Our old kitchen phone kept track of the time when I was a kid as well. To set a clock, we’d call the Time Lady.

That wasn’t her name, of course. Still, we would dial 853-1212 on our family’s phone to call her. The number would ring, and then a recorded voice would say, “At the tone the time will be, 12:52 and sixteen seconds. BEEP!”

The official name for the service is the speaking clock. The number dialed varied. Sometimes it was POPCORN, or 767-2676. Where I grew up in San Diego, the number was 853-1212. That was one of the rare phone numbers I actually memorized.

Rumor has it that office workers would often call the Time Lady just before 5:00 — quitting time. That way their lines would be busy should should a new call come in and they wouldn’t have to stay after work. I don’t know whether or not that’s true.

In the US, most local land line providers no longer offer the speaking clock service; it was discontinued a few years back. You can, however, still call the Time Lady, although it’s not always a lady. The US Naval Observatory operates a time service you can call: +1 202 762 1069. A man (most probably a computerized voice) reads the time.

Feel free to dial that number, listen to the time, and reminisce.

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