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Carl Wernicke: If you've got a minute...


Time is fleeting, madness takes its toll. Fans of The Rocky Horror Picture Show will remember that lyric from the show’s iconic song, "The Time Warp."   

I raise this because dealing with time has become something of a madness in modern times. Hordes of people seem obsessed with saving it. A minute here, a minute there. It’s why you see people risk killing themselves and others to careen through a red light and save, what, three minutes on their way to work? 

For years I had a long daily commute to downtown from Garcon Point on I-10. Watching the antics of frantic drivers tailgating and zipping in and out of tight spaces to make it to work a few minutes sooner, I decided to opt out. I moved into the right lane — the official slowpoke lane — set my cruise control to 55 and watched the madness swirl past me. Other than all that horn blowing behind me, which I never did figure out, I had a serene commute. 

I did a little math and calculated that the travel time difference between 55 miles per hour and 65 was less than five minutes. If all those irate drivers just left home a few minutes earlier, they could have enjoyed the drive, too.  And of course, in the early days of mass marketing, new home appliances were pushed as labor-saving, a euphemism for time. In reality, they simply freed homemakers up to do even more tasks.

These days, people are all in a dither over Daylight Savings Time, which we recently reset our clocks to. Florida’s elected officials increasingly want to opt out of the twice-yearly time switch, and I say it’s about time.  And we all know people who always seem to be in a hurry. They eat fast food so they don’t waste time cooking, shop in convenience stores, stick to the interstate instead of the scenic route, and generally seem to define “better” as taking the least amount of time. What, I always wondered, do they intend to do with all these saved minutes? Still, even though I have now been retired for several years, I confess that I can’t totally shake this obsession to save time. I constantly find myself thinking that I need to hurry up because … why? When I think about it, I almost never have something hanging over my head that requires immediate attention, no matter what my time-obsessed wife says.  And yet, the nagging worry remains.

I can only conclude that it is a deeply ingrained habit, developed over a lifetime of balancing everything else against that big bloc of time sucked up by work. I always thought going to work really interfered with my day, and being retired confirms it. In the last several years I have found the question “How did I have time to work?” recurring on a, well, timely basis. Anyway, as usual, I hope you weren’t expecting me to provide you any solutions to all this. I will, however, cut this commentary short and save you the next 20 seconds. Use them wisely.