Ticking away

What is a clockmaker to do, Ace? In this age of atomic timekeeping and all-in-one cellular gadgets, it seems like everyone’s turned a blind eye to our noble craft. I have this terrific idea for an escapement-driven pendulum, but everyone keeps telling me that it’s “so 17th-century.” I don’t suppose there’s anyone in Charlottesville who might sponsor my grandiose design? Because rent’s due in a week and the clock, well, you know what it’s doing.—Chris T. N. Huygens

Not putting any food on your table, that’s for sure. Not buying your wife dresses, or textbooks and mittens and insulin for your little children—assuming you’re not the virgin-for-life artisan type, which Ace finds distasteful. What is a clockmaker to do, you ask? Enroll in engineering night classes and build bombs for Lockheed Martin, that’s what.

Ah, don’t let cynical ol’ Ace get to you, Chris. It’s just that he’s made a lifelong enemy of the clock, what with its tendency to do the exact opposite of whatever he wants it to be doing. Come to think of it, Ace isn’t too hot on time in general, because it’s killing him slowly. (Okay, the grain alcohol isn’t helping.)

Still, Ace is always amenable to helping the luckless, so listen: The City of Charlottesville is inviting artists, architects, planners and designers to draw up original plans for a new clock, one that someday might watch over us all, like an unblinking eye, from somewhere on the Pedestrian Mall. And if that’s not incentive enough for you, Chris, there’s a $1,500 cash prize for the winning design.

The City’s website lists the contest as part of the international 2009 Sister Cities Clock Design Competition, and judges are looking for a clock concept that “honors Charlottesville’s relationship with its three Sister Cities: Besancon, France; Pleven, Bulgaria; and Poggio a Caiano, Italy.”

Since wooing sisters is Ace’s specialty—by which he means other than his own, because Ace knows his limits—he’ll offer you some advice, free of charge:

1. You’ll be sneaking around a lot. EasyJet offers some of the cheapest airfare in Europe. Avoid trains.

2. In your interactions with each sister city, favorably compare her to the others. “Oh Poggio a Caiano, your villas put Besancon’s to shame”; “Ah, Besancon, your glorious river frontage disgraces that landlocked homebody Pleven.”

3. Eventually, you will call one sister by the other’s name. Prepare an escape route, and carry your passport at all times.

Deadline is 5pm on Friday, October 23, and time isn’t exactly on your side. Take Ace’s advice and run, rabbit, run.

You can ask Ace yourself. Intrepid investigative reporter Ace Atkins has been chasing readers’ leads for 20 years. If you have a question for Ace, e-mail it to ace@c-ville.com.