Every morning after her alarm goes off, Rhodessa Bender gets up, makes the bed and reaches for the telephone. "I call the weather and decide what I'm going to put on for the day," she said.
"The weather" is Verizon's telephone weather line, 936-1212. Since the days of rotary dials in the 1930s, it has been providing telephone users with the local temperature and forecast. And even today it comes not from robots, but from real people with names and, some say, personality.
But on June 1, they're going to fall silent in the Maryland and Washington area codes, along with the phone company's dial-in time service — 844-1212.
A terse announcement on the weather line says, "Effective June 1, 2011, Verizon will no longer offer time-of-day and weather forecast services."
Sandra Arnette, the Verizon spokeswoman in Baltimore, said cancellation of the time and weather services has been coming for a long time. In fact, Maryland and the Washington area are the last in the nation to fall to Verizon's ax.
"In Virginia, we discontinued the time and weather in late 2006; in Pennsylvania in late 2008," she said. "People just have so many alternatives — radio, TV, online, wireless phones, PDAs …"
There was a time when Marylanders knew the numbers as WE-6-1212, and TI-4-1212. And kids playing with the old rotary phones quickly learned you could dial any four numbers after WE-6 or TI-4 and still get the weather and time. You still can.
Arnette declined to say how many people still call Verizon for time and weather information. But she conceded it has become an "anachronism."
The cut-off announcement has been on Washington's weather and time lines, and on Baltimore's time line, for some time. It was spliced into Baltimore's weather line last week.
"Imagine my shock!" said Bender, 52, a self-employed bookkeeper in Alexandria, Va., who has a husband and two teenagers at home, but no TV hooked to the outside world.
For her, the end of her morning Verizon weather updates also means the loss of "contact" with the phone company's recorded weather forecasters — all but one of whom give their names. For her, it's like losing a clutch of good friends.
"No more Neal Pizzano? No more of the unnamed grouchy guy, or Howard Phoebus, or Rob Luchessi or Mark Richards, or Charles Crump?" she exclaimed in an e-mail to The Baltimore Sun.
(The weather announcements for the 410 area code seem to come from a different stable of forecasters. Steve Thompson was on the horn Friday afternoon.)
Not everyone is quite so exercised about the passing of dial-in time and weather services. Doris Cooney, who just turned 82, is a former interior designer who's lived for 14 years at the Charlestown retirement community in Catonsville.
"I thought Verizon had discontinued that a long time ago," she said. "I never really used it. I use the Weather Channel, and of course the newspaper, for the weather. For the time, I just look at my watch, at the clock, or I look out the window."
One of Cooney's neighbors at Charlestown feels very differently about Verizon's decision to cancel the service.
"That would be disastrous!" said Alice Krohn, a 93-year-old former office manager who still drives and plays the piano for cancer patients every Thursday at St. Agnes Hospital.
"I'm a constant user of 1212," she said. "I can't remember when that started, but I can remember back in the '80s, in my old home, using it. I do have a wristwatch I could resort to, but … I don't know if it's five minutes fast or five minutes slow. There's a great difference if you have an appointment."
When the power goes out, the TV and radio go, too. But the phone keeps working, Krohn said. And it's there to help her reset her clocks. She's used the weather line, too, though less often. It helps her decide what to wear. "It's the forecaster for your apparel … a kind of barometer for dressing."
Verizon's Arnette said ending the time and weather services will not put any Verizon employees out of work. The time announcements are computerized, and the recorded weather forecasts are provided by an outside contractor, whom she would not identify.
Bender, in Alexandria, hopes Neal, Howard, Charles and "the grumpy guy" won't lose their jobs, either. There's just something about their voices that can't be replaced by the synthesized human voices on her NOAA Weather Radio.
"I guess I'll have to go online. What are my other choices?" she lamented. "If you go to the radio, you have to listen to a whole bunch of stuff before they get to the weather report.
"I'll go online, but it won't be the same. There's just something about the personalities of the weathermen," she insisted. "I do feel they're friends."
She listens often enough that she's picked up little hints and clues to their private lives, "Like when Neal Pizzano says, 'If you see Rodney Pizzano today, tell him Happy Birthday.' " She suspects that's Neal's son.
And the grouchy guy? She thinks someone spoke to him a year or so ago and urged him to lighten up his deep, rough voice. "He actually started to soften his [timbre] a bit. It almost seemed like he knew people were calling him the 'Grouchy Guy.' "
Bender also uses Verizon's time service. "I like the clock on the microwave to be exactly right," she explained. "So I like the countdown."
Dial the time line and the announcer says, "Good afternoon. At the tone, the time will be one, forty-six, and 30 seconds … Beep …Good afternoon. At the tone, the time will be one, forty-six, and 40 seconds … Beep …"
"I wait till it gets right, exactly, on the dot. Then you push the button," Bender said. "Then you go to the clock on the stove. … I just like it to be right."