Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Baby, it's cold outside

Well, okay, actually it's warming up. Last time I looked it was an amazing 1 degree above zero, which, sadly, is what passes for warm in interior Alaska in mid-January. But it was 35 below zero when I took this photo on Monday. It's a picture of the inside bottom of my front door.

Anyway, the weather got me to thinking about an email I wrote to my sister in January of 2006, on a day when it was 50 below zero. (And I don't mean anything wimpy like that was the wind chill factor. That was the actual temperature.) So I thought I'd post it here, on the off chance someone besides two of my coworkers, who read this out of kindness, might happen upon it and be amused by life at 50 below.

Life at Fifty Below

I get dressed in long underwear and fleece pants, and carry my slacks and shoes in my briefcase. I wrap a scarf around my face, put on my fur ear muffs and my giant down parka with the hood up, and I tighten the fur ruff around my face. I put on my heavy mittens. Hmmm ... then I take off a mitten so I can flip on the porch light and open the door. Then I pull my mitten on with my teeth, because I can't get it back on with the other hand while I'm carrying my briefcase stuffed with my clothes. Then I walk fast to the garage, take my mitten off again so I can unlock the garage door, and I scamper inside.

I back my car out and the thermometer in my car breaks the sound barrier plummeting from 50 above zero to 22 below and then turns to two dashes, because it won't register anything colder than that. Meanwhile the automatic garage door creaks down to about 3 inches above the ground and starts back up again. It doesn't like the cold either. I punch the button on the remote about 7 times and the door finally stays down.

I drive through the ice fog to the University gym parking lot, plug my car in so it'll start at 5 pm and head across campus. After a 5 minute walk at 50 below, my breath has frozen streaks on my glasses and there's frost on the fur of my parka ruff. I walk into the library and the humidity fills in the few clear spaces on my glasses with more frost, so I take them off and stumble blindly to my office where, go figure, I'm having a hot flash ...

... and then at 5 pm, I change back into my fleece pants, stuff my slacks and shoes back into my briefcase, take a deep breath and head back out to my car. I punch the button on my key to unlock the doors, toss my briefcase into the back seat, shut the door and head around to unplug the car. Meanwhile, the electronics in my car, their tiny brains scrambled by the cold, proceed to relock the car doors all on their own. So I unlock them again, toss in the electric cord and shut the door. But the door latches don't like the cold either, so, when I get in and turn the car on, the door open icon lights up and the door open bell, which usually produces a vigorous and repetitive ding, lets out a weak bleat every 60 seconds or so. So I get out and slam the rear door shut.

Okay, now I'm ready to go. Backing out of the parking space is a challenge because the lubrication in the steering wheel has stiffened with the cold and the wheel doesn't want to turn. Then, when I put it in drive, I thump along through the parking lot because my tires have frozen flat on the bottom. Oh wait! The door open bell is bleating again because the driver's side door didn't latch. And look! The air bag deployed icon is lighting up sporadically on the dash. Isn't this fun! And I still have the garage door to look forward to! Life in Alaska -- always an adventure.


Phantom Midge said...

OK, as a clueless Midwesterner...what are you plugging your car into? Is this some sort of electrical hitching post they have in parking lots?

A few days ago it was actually 65 degrees here but now it's back to a normal 30-ish degrees. Practically balmy to you!

MizMagee said...

Hi midge! I've never heard anyone describe them as electrical hitching posts, but that's pretty much exactly what they are. The electricity goes to head bolt heaters and battery blankets. Warming those car parts, especially the battery, is the only way to start the car if it's been sitting outside for any length of time in extreme cold. So our cars have this goofy electrical/umbilical cord coming out the front, and you stick an extension cord on it and plug it in to the post.