Bidding Adieu to a Service Deemed Antiquated

Portable Internet access is apparently so common these days that yet another longtime service has gone the route of the Edsel and the eight-track tape, at least in Columbus.  I’m talking about dialing the time and temperature on the phone.  As of the first of this month, (614) 469-1010 will no longer provide you with the current time, temperature (including wind chill during the appropriate season), and forecast.

I learned this one morning in mid-January, as I was getting ready for work, when I called the number to see what the outside temperature would be, so I could dress appropriately.  The recorded voice welcomed me to the Weatherline Forecast Service.  Instead of the usual brief commercial, a cheerful voice thanked me for my past use of the line, and that it would stop on February 1.

I marked the occasion by deleting the number from my cell phone.  I am sad for the loss, because there were times when, as a grade-school kid, there were many afternoons when I was confined to quarters.  Dad was teaching afternoon classes, or at Faculty Council, while my mother was upstairs, zonked out from a cornucopia of prescription drugs.  I tired of watching reruns of The Flintstones and The Big Valley, but still wanted to hear some human voice.

One early indication, I guess, of my Asperger’s syndrome was that yes, I wanted to hear the human voice, but I didn’t want much interaction.  This was why I didn’t call up friends from school or the few kids who were in the neighborhood.  If speed-dial existed at the time, Ohio Bell’s time service and the dial-a-prayer from the Sixth and Washington Sts. Church of Christ would have been on mine.

Forty years later, I can still remember, verbatim, some of the small statements that accompanied the time service.  I still remember the number (373-7641–the area code was 614 for Marietta when I was a child, but it has been 740 since 1998), and some of the introductory promotions: “Dial a wrong long-distance number?  No charge; dial the operator.”  “The Trimline phone combines the dial and handset to save steps and time!”  I formed a mental picture of the man whose voice I heard.  (My dad said he sounded like an announcer on a St. Paul radio station he listened to when he taught at the University of Minnesota, but that it wasn’t the same man.)

We lived only about a third of a mile from the Church of Christ, but we were nominal Episcopalians at the time, never going to church.  (My dad effectively excommunicated himself from the Roman Catholic Church when he married my mother, who was a divorcée.)  What little theological training I had came from watching The Treehouse Club early Sunday mornings while waiting for the morning paper (read: the funnies) to arrive, and from the recorded messages from the Church of Christ.  I was not comfortable with the theology–even then, my inner Unitarian was starting to show through–but the minister’s voice was a pleasant one, and when he ended his recording, the way he said, “This is Charles Brown from the Sixth and Washington Sts. Church of Christ, please call again,” he sounded like he was saying goodbye to a friend.  (I later met him at the public library, and found him to be a very personable and pleasant man.)  Since I yearned for mail not addressed to “Occupant,” I even took two or three lessons of the church’s correspondence course.  (Some Saturday mornings, I would watch Sunrise Semester before my cartoons came on, trying my best to absorb the NYU professors’ courses.)

Cincinnati’s time and weather (at (513) 241-1010) still seems to be alive and well.  Its number is in my cell phone, even though I only use it when I go to Cincinnati for the Old-Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention in the spring.  In addition to time, weather, and forecast, they add the Ohio River stage.  Someone who did not grow up on the Ohio might find this puzzling, but it makes perfect sense to me.  Cincinnati suffered major damage during the Ohio River floods of 1913, 1937, and 1946, and the March 1945 flood endangered much of the wartime production industry in Cincinnati.  (These same floods devastated Marietta as well.  See below for the front page of The Parkersburg Sentinel from the spring of 1937.  The newspapers were as successful as predicting the crest of the river as Jehovah’s Witnesses have been at predicting the end of the world.)

So, I bid farewell to time and weather on the telephone here in Columbus.  USA Today used to print a number on the back page of the front section, where they print the national weather map, where you could text your zip code.  It would then return the current temperature and a 72-hour forecast.  This service has also gone kaput, apparently, because the number no longer appears.

As long as we’re on the subject of weather, I can say that right now (it’s almost 7 p.m.), the temperature is 50 degrees, the lowest it’s been today.  I have Monday off (Presidents’ Day), but took a cost-savings day today, so I could extend my weekend even further.  (Today was one of those 10 days per year for which I am not paid.  I wore a hoodie just to be safe, but didn’t need it.)

Every Wednesday, the tornado sirens blow all over Columbus, testing to make sure they’re in working order. This was confusing one day last summer, when the National Weather Service map was aglow with color like an overdecorated Christmas tree (or a menorah on the eighth day of Hanukkah), the sky was so dark the street lights were on, and rain was pelting the windows on the 10th floor.  At work, we heard the sirens go off, and my fellow floor wardens and I were wondering if this was a real siren–go to a safe place, a tornado is bearing down on you–or the weekly test.  I looked at my watch, and it was indeed 12 noon.  Maybe it was a little bit of both.

There was a different situation last Wednesday.  Noon came and went, and no siren.  The weather outside was pleasant, but the fact there was no siren was eerie, not unlike “the curious incident of the dog in the nighttime” featured in “Silver Blaze,” a story in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.  (“The dog did nothing in the nighttime.”  “That was the curious incident.”)  Was there an unwritten understanding that if there was no siren at noon on Wednesday, adverse weather was just around the corner, and you had best make peace with your Creator and expect the worst?

Nothing of the kind.  At five after, they went off.  Someone must have been distracted and not kept track of the time.