Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Cold enough for ya'?

Since Jack Frost has been nipping at our noses the past couple days, as well as a couple weeks ago, I thought I’d chime in.

Few words can illicit a knee-jerk response in the way that this one simple phrase will:

“Cold enough for ya’?”

Those four asinine words are enough to incite many people to violence. Even the Dalai Lama would have to clench his teeth and count to five to avoid cuffing the speaker across the brow. Like we’re gonna answer back with “Golly, no, it’s not cold enough. I hope it drops another 40 degrees or so and all the pipes in my house burst.’, or perhaps, “Why, yes, it is cold enough for me. That damned pleasant weather was getting downright tedious.”

I myself detest being cold. I always have. As a kid growing up in the Maryland suburbs, we saw temperatures routinely in the high 20’s/low 30’s throughout the winter. We’d get snow a few times a year and like all kids we’d beg for snow days. A one or two hour delay to classes was no fun; that was just a teaser.

However, I learned what cold really was when I moved to Maine.

There was a whole new level of cold that I experienced during my four years of high school living in Kittery, a small coastal town at the very southern tip of Maine on the border with New Hampshire. Things that would close schools in Maryland might get a 2-hour delay in Maine, and stuff that delayed schools in the DC area would just get laughed at Up North. Walking to school over a 2-inch layer of ice in 8 inches of snow, the temperature hovering at a crisp 10°, was what some people might call a “character builder”. I just called it Frikkin’ Cold.

My character was further developed by my 4 years in the Army, most specifically by my two years at Fort Riley, Kansas, where I learned the true meaning of “wind chill”, but also by one particular earlier field training exercise in Germany. Headquarters thought they were doing us a favor by letting us set up our cots in an empty and gutted former barracks building on an abandoned missile base we were using for our mock prisoner-of-war camp. But with no windows and no electricity, those walls weren’t doing much to stave off the very damp below-freezing December temps as the sun went down. Thankfully there were lots of plywood sheets around, which were duct-taped over windows to block the wind, and after lighting about 7 huge hurricane candles and igniting a few Tri-Oxane heat tabs in some scavenged soda cans, I soon had my little space warm enough to have condensation running down the walls. But that was nothing compared to my Kansas Christmas of 1990…

See, Kansas is just a bit flat. There was nothing between me and Denver, Colorado but about 400 miles of open prairie, and that wind coming out of the Rockies struck full force on the first solid object over 4 feet tall standing in its way. Often, that object was me. I had the honor of working the front gate of our little sub-section of the base that Christmas morning, and with the heater in the gate shack running full blast it was a balmy 35° inside, compared to outside, which was (I kid you not) a soul-crushing -35° with the wind chill factored in. So every time I had to go wave a vehicle in, I endured a temperature drop of SEVENTY DEGREES. At one point I looked outside at an approaching car and, recognizing it, just stuck my gloved hand out the door and waved him through. Character, indeed.

After the Army I eventually ended up living in Bangor, Maine, where additional misery & suffering was liberally dished upon my plate by days where you found yourself praying for the temps to rise up to zero. Yeah, it’s pretty bad when you hope for zero, or maybe even a positive number. That’s the kind of cold where it hurts to breathe, the cold air burning your lungs and freezing your nose hairs. When the ambient air temperature is -35°, without any wind chill, your character is so over-developed that you wish you didn’t have so much of it. When it’s cold enough to freeze salt water in a tidal river thick enough to be able to walk across that river from one town to another, it’s time to move South. And I did…

I’ve never regretted moving away from Old Man Winter to a better climate. And on days when it gets a bit bitter and raw here in South Carolina, I cope and deal with it secure in the knowledge that it will soon pass and I’m in no danger of having to snow-blow my driveway as ice crystals form in my eyelashes. At least until someone says “Hey, you’re from up north. You should like this stuff”, and I have to remind them that if I liked freezing my butt off for 7-8 months of the year, I’d have stayed there instead of leaving it in my rear-view mirror seven years ago. These days, the closest I get to snow and ice is walking through the giant milk cooler at the dairy, and my Stingrays hockey games.

And that suits me just fine…

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