The air temperature is a balmy -10 degrees. It’s the kind of cold that makes your eyes water, your breath come out in snow showers on the front of your scarf and inside your nose, fabric stiffen and become amplified, like paper being crumpled. In a matter of seconds, bare skin burns with cold.
The coldest night of the year is an honor not long held in Minnesota in January. Last year I volunteered at the St. Paul Winter Carnival on what was, then, the coldest night of the year. For hours, we stood at the gates to the Ice Palace, a multi-million dollar structure that was far less impressive than I would like to have thought, and that became less and less so as the volunteer managers made the full nature of their incompetence known and the temperature continued to fall. The final straw was the slow recognition of the irony – there we were, volunteers from housing organizations, standing in the midst of a courtyard created by blocks of ice where hundreds of man hours and thousands upon thousands of dollars resulted in something sort of pretty, instead of something functional for the people who would have to sleep outside. What was left of the good cheer leaked out of my body with the last of the warmth. Cold was replaced by pain. Pain was replaced with numbness. By the time we finally left, I couldn’t feel anything but a dull thud as my feet hit the ground, my body mindlessly dragging the dead weight and praying that my footing stayed steady. We walked to the parking garage, drove back to the office. I shared the story of my misery for 20 minutes or so with a coworker. I got in my car and drove home. I got in a warm bath. I got into my pajamas. I got under the covers. And then I felt cold. Not the throw-another-blanket-on cold – the cold coming from inside, no way to reheat except from the frozen middle back out again. It took a long time to get warm enough to fall asleep.
That, blessedly, is the story of the coldest I’ve ever been.
Last night I got off I-94 to avoid vexatious rush hour traffic. At Cedar and 94 was a man with a cardboard sign, asking for change. At SuperAmerica across from Caffetto, a woman approached me asking if I could help her with anything. Under 94 at Lyndale, another couple of people with signs asking for change.
The need hits harder than the cold when you realize you get to go home, have a hot bath and go to bed.