Jeff Jardine: How cold is cold? Depends on the place and the people

jjardine@modbee.comDecember 7, 2013 

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Some people are at home in the cold, while others bundle up, including these Manteca fans at the Sac Joaquin Section Division III title game at Lincoln High School in Stockton on Friday.

ANDY ALFARO — aalfaro@modbee.com Buy Photo

So, how cold is cold?

It’s been in the mid-20s here overnight and typically colder in the foothills and Sierra since midweek. Frost warnings. Black Angus cattle that, their heads and backs coated by rime, resemble oversized versions of Pepé Le Pew as they stand in the pastures during the chilly mornings.

Of course, cold is relative. The folks in Truckee, for example, would be sweating it out in our plus-25 compared to their minus-4. People who live in the Midwest or Northern areas of the country laugh when we complain about being cold. Surf the local TV stations and simply pick the weather you want to hear, because they’re always a couple of degrees apart. One will tell you it’s going to snow down to the 1,500-foot level and a few minutes later, another station will report it down to 1,400 feet. A competitive market, indeed.

No matter. Cold is in the eyes of the be-shiverer. Some folks prefer a good, brisk and dry cold to 43 degrees and a soppy fog. I posted on Facebook, asking “friends” for their coldest moments. One replied “today.” Another is a GIT (that stands for Guam Islands transplant). “I’m freezing when it hits the 60s here in the valley!” she wrote.

Some cited way-below-zero temperatures they experienced at military outposts. Other responders included the aforementioned Midwesterners who mock our interpretation of chilly.

A former co-worker grew up in the minus-40 wind chill of Montana. Another former Modesto Bee co-worker, Sharokina Shams, is now a reporter at KCRA Channel 3. “Coldest I’ve ever been: January 3rd 2012. Des Moines,” she posted. “Covering the Iowa Caucus and thinking that I would freeze before delivering the live report.”

Retired CBS 13 reporter Craig Prosser also offered a fond memory of Des Moines. “And often it would stay below zero for a week, 24/7,” he wrote. “If you had a garage, your car would usually start in the morning, but after 9-10 hours on the street at work, you could never guarantee getting home without a jump. Never thought so much about how cold I was but more about whether the car would start.”

And yet another former Bee co-worker, Melissa Van Diepen, posted about being in a dorm at Boston College one November. “The heat was turned off for the holiday and the dorm was empty, so it was freezing and miserable and it was in the middle of some crazy storm system that dropped tons of snow. Plus, we couldn’t find a place to eat, so we ate out of the vending machines and huddled under blankets with a blow dryer. Happy Thanksgiving.”

Others cited ski trips in Colorado, Idaho, Tahoe and other places where people go specifically to freeze.

I can recall being really cold only three times in my life. The first came on a Thursday night in 1971, playing a freshman football game in Sonora. It rained earlier in the week. Then, it cleared and a cold front not unlike the one we’re now enjoying (or not) set in. The ground froze, turning every footprint made during the earlier rainstorm into a sharp-edged pit. The few fans in the stands sat on one side of the old press box to stay out of the wind, which gusted up to about 25 miles an hour. It was brutal.

The second? “The coldest I have ever been is with YOU at Candlestick Park in June!” an old friend posted on Facebook. This Ice Age moment occurred at Candlestick in the early 1980s. I’d seen all of the great home run hitters of my youth – The Willies (Mays and McCovey), The M’s (Mantle and Maris), Minnesota’s Harmon Killebrew and Pittsburgh’s Donn Clendenon – hit homers. But not Pirates’ great Wilbur Stargell. So I took the friend to the Giants-Pirates game that night, hoping for a San Francisco win but also a Stargell dinger. That night, the old line attributed to Mark Twain – “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco” – came into play.

It was cold. Tuesday half-price promotion nights generally drew good crowds, and we sat in the upper deck in center field, where the wind whipped the entire game. She bundled up in her coat, gloves, scarf and stocking cap and still froze. I offered her my coat and she took it. Her teeth chattered so hard I feared they were going to shatter into little pieces. I felt the cold, too, but refused to admit it. After Stargell struck out to open the eighth inning, she pleaded with me to leave. So we headed to the car, turned on the radio and merged south onto U.S. 101. The Pirates staged a ninth-inning rally capped by – you guessed it – a booming Stargell homer, and an upper-deck shot at that.

We drove back to the Valley. The only sound the entire return trip came from the tires on the pavement and the heater fan. Had social media existed in 1981, I probably would have de-friended her for a time.

My third really, really cold moment came during the first of the 49ers’ back-to-back Super Bowl championship seasons, as echoed by former sportswriter and current Facebook friend Jon Rochmis: “January 1989 NFC championship game, SF @ Chicago.”

San Jose International Airport’s thermometer read 35 degrees when I flew out the Friday morning before the game. All week long, the Chicago media wrote about how those sissy boys from California wouldn’t be able to handle the predicted “Bear Weather” and therefore the Bears that coming Sunday.

What Bear weather? The plane landed to a balmy 48 degrees at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport and soared to 51 by the time I checked into my hotel on Michigan Avenue. The mild weather, as I recall, stuck around most of Saturday as well. Several of us went to dinner that night on State or Division or Rush or one of those Chicago streets known for good restaurants and better bars. When we emerged a few hours later, we might as well have been at the North stinking Pole. Chicago residents love to brag that if you don’t like the weather, just wait an hour and it will change.

Indeed, the temperature fell to 10 degrees. The wind came off Lake Michigan at 40 miles an hour. The next morning, TV stations warned people not to wear their contact lenses for fear they would freeze to their eyeballs.

The funny thing is that when the Bears came out of their toasty locker room to warm up – a term that certainly didn’t apply that day – they wore parkas and gloves. Niners’ fullback Tom Rathman, meanwhile, came out wearing his game pants and a T-shirt. The native Nebraskan was right at home. San Francisco won 28-3 and a trip to Miami for the Super Bowl. The Bears endured a longer, colder winter.

Ultimately, being cold comes down to the person and place. This latest cold spell is cold for this area and, to Valley residents, that’s all that counts.

They’d be even colder – much colder – somewhere else.

Bee columnist Jeff Jardine can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com or (209) 578-2383. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJardine57.

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