If there is one thing I regret from my youth, it’s my choice of fashion over function during February of my senior year of high school. I was invited to a college fraternity formal in downtown Chicago (“The Golf Ball”). I was in a sleeveless, silk dress, hose, leather heels, and a Volkswagen Rabbit in subzero temps with even further subzero wind chills exacerbating the brrr.
I did have sense enough to wear a coat (a thin, fancy, wool, dress coat with a silky scarf covering the stylish v-neck). I didn’t have boots (with me or on me), I did not have a blanket in the car, I did not have mittens (only very cute gloves that went well with my ensemble), and I left my good judgment somewhere between my hometown and the suburbs where I met my friends and my blind date who decided at the last minute that I would drive.
The car overheated due to the frozen coolant in the radiator, the engine block cracked, and the VW seized up and died on I-294. There were no cell phones. It was so cold that four of us piled in the back seat, formal attire and all. I stopped feeling my toes and fingers a half hour prior to this clown car move. I took my arms from coat sleeves and my put my hands in my armpits after I saw that they were white. After putting my gloves on my feet, I tucked them under me and sat in the fetal position. The police stopped but wouldn’t give us a ride. They said they’d call a tow truck and said there was a service station just up the exit ramp behind us.
I can’t recall exactly how we got the car to the service station, but I know it involved pushing. I do recall, however, the blazing hot sensation as my fingers and toes flamed back to life, and the pain and tingling that wouldn’t cease for hours thereafter. I was lucky. I had 1st- 2nd-degree frostbite. Any further than that and I would have had blistering, permanent loss of feeling, and possible amputation. That would have been a price far greater than the new engine I had to purchase for the VW.
I share this because to this day, it takes no more than a few minutes in just the right conditions (AC too high in the car, barefoot on the kitchen floor in the morning, more than a minute sorting through foods in the freezer, holding a gallon of milk by the handle with an un-gloved hand) and my digits turn white and go numb. Gloves are only for temps greater than 40 degrees in my world. Mittens are a must. Slippers are an always item from fall to spring. Boots are in the car regardless of snow.
Look, we both know you’re cute in that outfit. If you’re going out, even to the store, pack a bag with the right warm gear. The temps are going to take your breath away this week, don’t throw in your fingers and toes to boot. (Pardon the pun.) And stand fast on this one when convincing the young people in your life to do the same.