Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Weathering the cold

This morning, I counted seventeen pieces of clothing on my body before I started for work. I counted underwear too, but there are only so many that you can wear. The rest were all twos of each, two pairs of socks, two pairs of hand gloves, a few thermals, coats and scarves and caps and all. I looked nothing short of an Eskimo, a bloated one at that. I logged on to my phone to take one last look at the weather when I noticed someone from California whining about the “chilly” weather on Facebook. Not used to the Fahrenheit scale and not intending to, I was dismayed to find the weather outside to be “-15C, feels like -22C). That little bar is not a dash, it is minus. To refresh your knowledge, pure water freezes at 0 degree Celsius.

Welcome to life in NE.

            I write this with a latent anger brewing inside me, an anger not directed towards any person, but at what my life has become in the last few weeks. I prepare myself for the worse every day, and it only gets more worse. And I have not even talked about the added discomfort that wind chill creates. This is my first winter in the mid-west, literally the middle of nowherebraska, and I just don’t know how to brace myself for it.

            Don’t get me wrong, my life is pretty easy and straightforward. I am not talking about walking 30 minutes to work, or taking a crowded bus every day. It’s just that the walk from the parking lot to the lab takes 10-15 minutes, and I am not exaggerating by any stretch of imagination when I say that that walk kills me.

The kelen-car-i

            It all starts first thing in the morning, when people usually hop into their cars and drive away. I would do the same, if not for the thick coating of ice crystals on the car that takes a significant amount of time to melt. I started with scraping, but it is a long and arduous process that involves torturing oneself early morning. So I started pouring warm water on the windscreen, that I was strongly recommended against (sharp temperature differences can crack the windshield). I got the warning sign the day my car’s power buttons stopped working. The windows would not go down, the lock would not work. I knew that it was time to do something about the car.

            I went to the leasing office to get a covered garage, and I swear that they had quoted me a lower price, but they now said that they always charged $20 extra than what I thought they did. The office closes at 6 pm, I usually work way later than that, but I had to leave office earlier than usual. I called them on phone, asking them to get the paperwork ready. In return, they gave me grief about the fact that their office would be closed if I was even a minute late. Anyhow, paperwork was signed, money was paid, and I said goodbye with the remote key to the garage, only to discover that the garage door would not budge all the way up or down. I called the emergency maintenance, told them that I had a meeting the next day at 9, and they said that they would fix the door, which they did, but only for the night. That night, I actually dreamt that the door would be jammed, and yes, the door only opened half way, with my car inside. I tried working with the remote for another 30 minutes or so in the cold. No one picked up the office phone (remember, they do not tolerate people a minute after they close or a minute before whatever time they open). But I was trying to reach the emergency maintenance, the on duty for 24 hours person. Instead, I went home, all dressed and freezing, and emailed the boss saying that I was not mobile until the garage door opened. Soon after, the emergency guy called me back, and came and fixed the door. Things have been good ever since. It snowed six inches the day after I rented a garage.

A four-layered cake

            The trouble with wearing multiple layers of clothes is, after the first layer, clothes do not fit you anymore. Your jeans may fit you fine, but try wearing it with two layers of thermals inside. Or try doing anything with two layers of gloves. You have to remove them, even if you wanted to do something as simple as use the car keys. I actually feel dizzy with all the layers of tight clothing pressing down on my blood vessels. The first thing I do when I get to work is remove a few layers, only to put them back on the moment I have to leave the building. And it does not end there even with those layers. Your eyes, nose and mouth are usually left unprotected. Tears were streaming down my cheeks until I realized that I was not crying and it was the cold. I cannot take a full breath of cold air, and gasp like I have asthma. My nose still feels so sore that it seems like someone has punched it and bruised it. After 5 minutes of walking in the cold, my fingertips, all ten of them behind two layers of gloves, no longer feel cold or numbness. They burn. Intense cold makes me feel like someone has rubbed chilies on raw flesh. Pain is a sensation I can relate to, but burning is a sensation new to me. Yes, intense cold ironically makes me feel like my fingers are on fire.

And all this, for nothing but to get to work.

            Because times are different now. As a student, I’d stay back home the first thing it got extra sunny, rainy, or snowy. I am no longer a student. I am expected to be at work five days a week, eight hours a day or until the work is finished, whichever is more. I cant stay at home because it is too cold. People are so used to the weather here that schools and colleges are open even when it snows heavily.

            The quality of my life has greatly suffered due to this. I can no longer socialize or go out, because it is too cold. I can’t go to the gym anymore, and that makes me feel heavy, bloated, and miserable. The happy hormones are no longer working for me since I am not working out. On weekends, I am happy because I can work from home and do not have to go outside in the cold. This is not a healthy life. Socializing is a primary component of my life, because I have no one at home to talk to. When I tell people that I am from India and not used to this, they laugh it off. People do not realize that one can actually have serious adjustment issues if one has never been exposed to such harsh temperatures before. I know that I might just do fine in extreme heat, because I am used to that. But cold, I am just not used to. But all I hear are clichés, “It will only get worse from here”, “Don’t worry, you will get used to it.”, or, “What would you do if you lived in Wisconsin?”.But I do not live in Wisconsin, is what I want to tell them. 

Everything will be fine by May.

But May is six months away!!! When I imagine the arctic wind from Canada blowing all over here, I shiver inside my warm house. By the way, the electricity bill doubled this month, although I am not at home most of the time Monday through Friday, or when traveling, which happens quite a bit. The thing is, when you are considering a job, no one warns you about the downsides of the place. I was told that this is a cheap place to live in (which I still have my doubts about) and people are nice and super friendly. What I was not told about is the way the extreme cold can impact my life in a negative way. And you know what- don’t let anyone tell you that you are shallow because the geographical location is as important to you as the kind of work. Weather is something that will affect you every single day of life. I’d happily take a job in Texas that pays less, just because the weather will suit me better.

            This year, it seems like I have no option that be a passive spectator. But the moment I reach office, I do two things. I make myself a hot, really hot cup of coffee, and spend some time looking for jobs elsewhere. I love the kind of work I do here. But I don’t think that I will be able to survive another winter here.

As for the Californians who are still whining about the weather, I wish them a speedy mental recovery.



kinminsworld said...

Hi, I've been reading your blog for a long time but never really commented! Anyway, I totally understand your situation and can feel your pain.. I live in Pittsburgh and it gets really cold here too and I have to take the bus which makes it worse! Here are a few suggestions that might help you deal with the winter better..
1. There are some down-filled jackets that are warmer than others.. They have a rating for the temperature upto which they work.. I bought a Columbia one last year that kinda keeps me warm upto -15C or so. Also, I wear the longer jackets that reach my knees.
2. Get a good pair of snow boots - something that is water proof and has thinsulation or fur lining or something else like that.. I have a pair from north face that keeps my feet relatively warm.. get a shoe size slightly bigger than your regular size so that you have space for thicker socks and also, some space for air circulation keeps your feet warmer than tight shoes.
3. You can get wool blended socks - I got mine from Costco that again keep your feet relatively warm.
4. Fleece jackets are the lightest and warmest for layering as compared to cotton and woolen sweaters.
5. Get leather gloves with thinsulation or maybe sports gloves from north face - again check the temperature rating for how well they work!
6. For working out, I sometimes stream videos on youtube and do that coz I don't like being sweaty and stepping out in the cold..
I don't wear thermals but usually wear thin camisoles for layering. I feel that sometimes just extra layers help - they don't have to be thick or warm.
You might already have some or all of this stuff, but just in case you don't, these might be helpful! Take care, and stay warm! :)

sunshine said...

kinminsworld, thank you for the very detailed advice about weathering the winter. I am certainly learning a lot of new things about getting used to the weather. Can you share your email id? You can send me an email, my email id is here: http://sunshinenjoy.blogspot.com/p/about-me.html

Thank you once again. :)

jestingjousts said...

I think I feel your pain. Seven years ago I landed in Minneapolis when it was 19 deg F (-7 deg C). The only thing that saved me was a stopover in Richmond, where I was able to stock up on "real winter gear".

kinminsworld said most of what I was going to say. I'll repeat the following for emphasis.

1. Down jacket, as the outwear - absolute must - North Face, Columbia, Timberland or other such name brand. Buy them from Goodwill at 1/10th the price.

2. Don't wear all tight fitted clothes. Except for the thermals, make sure there is a layer of air insulation between 2 successive clothing items

3. Get snow pants. Typically one would wear snow pants when working in the snow but they are great for lower body warmth for people who need it. Again, Goodwill.

4. Snow boots. Woolen socks. Warm(er) gloves.

5. A real winter hat. Can't stress this enough. Not the ones that look chic, but the ones which server the purpose. Try a search for "trapper hats for women".

6. Get a remote car starter. You can warm up your car before you get into it.

This would be my suggestion for layers:
Upper body: long sleeve t-shirt (or women's top), a hoodie or a sweater, down jacket, scarf, hat, gloves
Lower body: thermal, jeans/pants, snow pants, woolen socks, boots

It will sound clichéd but it does get better! I don't remember the last time I wore a thermal! An anecdote from my early days: I walked for an hour in 0 deg F weather, and was stranded at a stop light for 15 mins because I couldn't figure out how to cross the intersection (you push the button to walk)!

Mail koro, if you have any questions. Ar amader edike aashar ki holo?? Granted amra 4 degrees further up North from where you are, kintu ekhane ele good company ar good food diye sheta negate kore deowa jabe :)

~ Krishanu