Living on Chicago Time

Clock at Marshall Field and Company, Chicago (taken at the corner of Randolph and State Street). Photographer: David K. Staub under Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.5 License

The working title for the novel that would become CHICAGO TIME was WINDY CITY. Then I found out Scott Simon had taken it for his novel. (His is a very entertaining novel about the political machinations taking place among Chicago aldermen upon the death of the mayor.)

This forced me to come up with a new title. I took the new title from a rant by one of the main characters, Elise, about a commonly used phrase in Chicago. You see, when you live in Chicago you live on “Chicago Time.”

It’s a curiosity about Chicago that almost no one who lives there, when referring to the time zone, ever says “Central Time” or “Central Standard Time” or even “Midwest Time.” I have no idea how this came about.

I spent most of the first 30 years of my life living in and around Chicago, and I often used the phrase “Chicago Time.” As in, “The Sox are on a road trip on the West coast, so the game against Oakland doesn’t start until 9 o’clock Chicago time.”

It wasn’t just me or everyone else I knew or heard speak. You also see this in more formal situations like this local CBS news report.

After driving past the prison a few times, then stopping at a hamburger restaurant for a Coke, Blagojevich arrived by car at FCI Englewood, a low-security federal prison in Littleton, Colo., and walked into the complex at 12:50 p.m. Chicago time, approximately 10 minutes before his required surrender time.

Or a report by columnist Lynn Sweet about the mayoral debates last year.

7:01 Chicago time
Miguel del Valle, Gery Chico bland openers.
Rahm Emanuel–the front-runner–nothing special
Carol Moseley Braun–in a new hairstyle and new highlights (I would note a new look for a man)…crisply summed up her biography…and makes the best pitch in the opener.

[Emphasis added]

This mindset does not necessarily occur in other places.

When I lived in Los Angeles, people didn’t say “LA Time.” Instead, they would say, “West Coast Time” or some variation of that, or even “Pacific time.”

In Michigan, no one says “Michigan Time.” You couldn’t even if you wanted to: half the UP is in the Eastern Time Zone and the other half is in the Central Time Zone.

In China there is only one time zone for the entire country.

When it’s not just the average Chicagoan who uses the term, but members of the media, it becomes something beyond local slang and approaches being legitimate. The phrase “Chicago Time” creates the sense that Chicago really does indeed have its own time zone. I have to agree with my character Elise, that it does reinforce the city’s warped sense of itself. Unlike her though, I wouldn’t have it any other way.


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