I shouldn’t be obsessed with daylight saving time, but I am. Like a pregnancy due date, a college graduation, or an income-tax payment, I have DST circled in red on my calendar and amplified with exclamation marks.
A few years ago, it meant nothing to me. I work at home—I can sleep or rise anytime I want, and I don’t get melancholy when the days get shorter. But here’s what I’ve come to anticipate with dread: changing the time on the clock in my car.
It’s nothing fancy: a 2015 Subaru Forester that I bought used. Although I don’t consider myself a dimwit, I absolutely cannot figure out how to set the clock. Twice a year, when the time changes, I find myself sitting in the car reading the Forester manual or at my desk watching YouTube videos on this subject and still, setting the clock is unfathomable.
My Forester has a large central display and, to the left of the wheel, three imposing black levers. To set the time, you have to do an intricate dance with these levers, along with corresponding icons that look like amoebas or the rings of Saturn. Even to get to the “clock function screen,” you must first navigate past the main information screen, which provides access to a dozen other functions. If you’re persistent enough, you’ll eventually land on one that says DATE, which means, in classical Subaru, TIME. From there, you go back to the three levers and start playing with them, looking for a way to enter the correct hour of day. If you mess up—by taking one hand off the lever too quickly or depressing the wrong one out of sequence—the entire screen goes dark and you’re back to square one.
There was a time when the clock in my car was correct. After the battery died (because I forgetfully left the headlights on), it was five hours off. I tried every way I could to adjust it, and then, in desperation, I duct-taped a small travel clock to the dashboard and used that.
When the guy from AAA came to charge the battery, I asked him if he could set the time. This is a man who spends every day under the hood of a car. He took one look at the three levers and snorted, “Sorry, can’t help you.”
I made an appointment at the Subaru dealership. A jumpsuited technician got into the driver’s seat and started to manipulate the three levers. He kept a blank face, but I could tell he was having problems. After about fifteen minutes, the screen said it was January 4035 and the time was 00.15 A.M.
He walked into the garage and another technician came out. I did not like this at all; it felt like when you’re suffering from a condition so anomalous that your doctor needs an immediate consultation with a superior. The new guy settled into the driver’s seat, where he, too, became frustrated. I felt like I had to say something, to excuse myself for bringing a car into the dealership to have the clock set and to make them more at ease with the problem.
“This is so unusual,” I said. “I mean, I’m not that stupid.” I blabbered on: “I actually went to Yale, where I did my graduate work, and I still can’t figure out how to set this damn clock!” My bona fides did nothing to help them set the clock, relax, or commiserate with me, so I shut up. After half an hour, the clock was set. I asked the guys to show me how to do it and they said, “Too complicated.” I left it at that.
Following this professional intervention, I took the travel clock off the dashboard and glanced happily at the official car clock to check the time. It felt so luxurious. But then it hit me: soon it would be daylight saving time and the clock would again be wrong.
I couldn’t stand the thought of going through this excruciating process again, so I duct-taped the travel clock back on the dash, where it’s remained ever since. I know that unless my car battery dies, when it’s time to move the clock back in the fall, I’ll be fine.
I have heard that there are parts of this country where daylight saving time is not recognized. Most of Arizona ignores it, but not the Navajo reservation, which strictly observes it. Having tried to learn the Navajo language years ago I can say that it’s even harder then figuring out the clock on my Forester. After a year of study, all I learned was ya’ at’ eeh (hello). I know my limitations.
Jane Stern is the author of more than forty books, including Ambulance Girl: How I Saved Myself by Becoming an EMT. She is the canine editor of Departures. With Michael Stern, she coauthored the popular Roadfood guidebook series. The Jane and Michael Stern Collection, comprising forty years of their research materials, is on permanent display at the Smithsonian.
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