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updated: 11/7/2017 5:35 PM

Constable: It's getting dark around 4:30. Why do we still do daylight saving time?

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  • The sun setting over Busse Woods near Elk Grove Village makes for a tranquil scene Monday. But it's jarring to have it happen at 4:39 in the afternoon after daylight saving time ended on Sunday.

      The sun setting over Busse Woods near Elk Grove Village makes for a tranquil scene Monday. But it's jarring to have it happen at 4:39 in the afternoon after daylight saving time ended on Sunday.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Video: How is DST still a thing?

 
 

When the sun set at 4:39 in the afternoon on Monday, those of us who realize the stupidity of our twice-a-year time changes want to blame farmers (nope), that early-to-rise Ben Franklin (negative) or maybe some clandestine Big Clock cabal (shh) for the disruption caused by the end of daylight saving time (DST). Sure, we picked up another hour early Sunday, but we needed that time to change the time on our coffee makers, toaster ovens, microwaves, shower radios and actual clocks, some of which can't be reached unless you stand on a wobbly chair. To top it all off, people with 9-to-5 jobs had to drive home Monday in the dark.

DST, which sounds as if it might be some toxic chemical that was banned in the 1970s but enjoying a comeback under our new Environmental Protection Agency, can cause withdrawal. After 238 days of the sun hanging around into the evening hours, it can be gloomy to see darkness set up shop while people are still at work and kids are going to volleyball practice or piano lessons. The tradition of moving the clocks forward one hour in the spring (spring ahead) and back one hour in the fall (fall back) started during World War I with the idea of saving energy. Maybe it did in the age when no one had air-conditioners, refrigerators, electric stovetops, TVs, computers, cellphone charges or a PlayStation 4 Pro, but modern studies suggest moving the clock doesn't save energy. A report by Johns Hopkins and Stanford universities showed fatal accidents increase on the Monday after our "spring forward" robs us of an hour of sleep.

DST was administered haphazardly until 1966, when Congress passed the Uniform Time Act, which made DST the norm from the last Sunday in April until the last Sunday in October. Even then, those dates were different in some states, and some states ignored DST completely.

Growing up in rural Indiana, I lived a quarter-mile from the time line. Our town stayed on Chicago time and observed DST, but our neighbors never adhered to DST. That meant we were on the same time in the summer, but during the winter, the neighbors' school would be on "fast time" while our school followed "slow time." So every time our schools played each other in basketball, my poor parents had to solve a word problem: "If the school you're playing starts its games at 6:30 p.m., and they are on 'fast time,' and it takes your school bus 45 minutes to get there, do we really have to go?"

Last week, a Massachusetts state commission voted 9-1 to approve a plan that would keep daylight saving time year-round, but only if New York and the rest of the East Coast go along with the plan, which seems unlikely. The report notes that most nations don't change their clocks twice a year. China, which spans five time zones and hasn't used DST since 1991, officially keeps the entire country on the same time as the capital city of Beijing.

Our local time change accelerates our angst about our days growing shorter. The sun set at 5:40 p.m. on Saturday and will set at 4:38 p.m. Tuesday.

If the time change seems confusing, imagine if you are an Amtrak passenger. The Empire Builder train left Chicago's Union Station at 2:15 p.m. Saturday and still arrived at 3:24 a.m. Sunday in Fargo, N.D., even though it had an extra hour to make the journey. Just as "every train is instantly an hour behind schedule" at the start of DST in the spring, trains must expend an extra 60 minutes in the fall to adhere to a schedule for arrivals and departures, says Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.

"Sometimes it's at a station. Sometimes, it's at a side track," Magliari says of the planned delay. Sometimes, a dispatcher has to stop a train in the middle of nowhere.

"And," Magliari notes, "if we are somehow behind schedule, we have a chance to catch up."

Eating Monday's lunch at my desk at 10:45 in the morning, I realize that it might take me a few more days to catch up with the time change.

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