Cold Times

Thirteen months ago, Zach Smith braved terrible wintry conditions on his walk through NYC with his father.

The walk path. Grimaldi’s Pizzeria (labelled “1”) to Joe Allen (“2”).

By Zach Smith

What’s better, condescending chill or wonderful warmth?

The answer depends on who you talk to. In a 2009 study by the Pew Research Center, which examined the preferences of Americans living in hot or cold environments, 57 percent of respondents prefer to live someplace warm, while 29 percent enjoy the cold. The top cities where people prefer a hotter climate in which to live are those in the southern and western portions of the U.S., with San Diego and Tampa drawing 44 percent each, and Orlando racking in 42 percent of respondents. 

I am among the 57 percent of people who prefer hot climates over cold ones. I am also among the 44 percent of folks who would prefer San Diego over Orland (since California is not as humid and tropical as Florida). I adore being outside, whether it’s a nature trail or a walk in the city, and I have found that the experience is more enjoyable if the weather is warm. My ideal situation would be a temperature between 70 and 80 degrees, with minimal humidity and a gentle southwesterly wind. As far as cold goes, I usually do not mind the bite and nip, unless the temperature is below 32 degrees and the wind is gusting 20 miles per hour or more. When that meteorological scenario is the case, my time outdoors is strictly limited. When I got exposed to those bitter conditions, I would be outside for a maximum of ten minutes, and I would think to myself, “How would it feel to be outside in the freezing cold for not just minutes, but hours?”

New York City is the highest-populated city in the U.S. and 38th most-populated in the world. As of July 1, 2018, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates the city’s population right under 8.4 million. With that many people around New York City, plus the 60 million tourists who visit from all over the world, getting from point A to point B can be challenging. It can be extremely difficult if the weather does not cooperate, especially in freezing winter temperatures. Luckily, many tourists come from cold countries, such as Russia, Iceland, Mongolia and Sweden, so they come prepared for any outdoor sightseeing they do throughout the five boroughs. To survive the cold temperatures in New York, Local Adventurer suggests getting a long coat, covering all extremities with a hat, gloves and a scarf, always packing extra layers, and wearing proper shoes to avoid any slush. It is a guarantee that folks will experience the cold during a New York City winter since they have to walk in the elements to go from one place to another, even if they take a cab or an Uber. To make the experience less painful, dressing in the proper attire when you go to New York City will make you less likely to feel the full, chilling effect of the wind, be it during the winter or not.

Even on the coldest winter day in New York City, wildlife frolic in parks as if it were warm and sunny. During the times I have been to New York in the winter, I noticed that I ran into plenty of squirrels and birds in Central and Prospect Park. I cannot fathom how these creatures can survive outdoors, especially in the frigid temperatures. Squirrels and birds have similar methods for how they keep warm in the winter. Most squirrel species remain active all year long and are able to stay warm during the winter since they store layers of fat in the pre-winter weeks to help them survive the cold. Birds also store fat to keep themselves warm, and at night, they fluff their feathers to trap heat and slow their metabolism to conserve energy. I can’t keep myself warm the way birds and squirrels can. I try to dress in as many layers as possible and give myself several hand and foot warmers. Unfortunately, this strategy does not work for me, and it certainly did not work on Friday, January 11, 2019, a day I dubbed “Cold Friday.”

LaGuardia Airport is one of the major weather reporting sites for New York City, along with Central Park and JFK Airport. The average high temperature for LaGuardia on January 11 is 39 degrees. When we planned our trip, we kept our fingers crossed for an unseasonably mild day. Mother Nature had other plans. There was not a cloud in the sky, but the high temperature for the day ended up being 31 degrees, with a northwest wind that peaked at 30 miles per hour. That temperature and those wind speeds made it feel more like 16 degrees.

My family and I go to New York City at least eight times a year for various events and to explore areas we have not seen before. We’re drawn to the city because of its rich cultural diversity and abundance of amenities like restaurants, shops, trails, theaters, etc. It can get pricey, but the satisfaction we get every time from the pleasant experiences we have are worth it. On a typical visit, my dad and I will go to a Yankees game or check out the exquisite thin-crust pizza establishments in Brooklyn. Each time we go to Brooklyn, my dad and I walk from our chosen pizza place all the way to Midtown Manhattan to meet up with my mom and sister at Joe Allen, our favorite New York restaurant on West 46th Street, a block and a half from Times Square. We tend to average between five and seven miles per walk, depending on the location of the pizza restaurant. My mom and sister are not as big into the walking as my dad and I are, so they coordinate their itinerary to make sure the theater, shops, and restaurants they go to are within walking distance of each other. If they’re not, they take an Uber or a cab.

Most of our visits are during the warmer months, so my dad and I usually have tranquil and mild conditions for our expeditions. Occasionally, we will have a New York walk during the colder months, where the experience is not as enjoyable since we have to fight through the frigid cold and blustery winds to continue forward. The walk we did on January 11 was beyond cold; we thought we were going to have to call an Uber or hail a cab to meet my mom and sister at the restaurant.

That frigid Friday afternoon, my dad and I ate at Grimaldi’s Pizzeria, which is right on the line of the Brooklyn Heights and Dumbo neighborhoods of Brooklyn, and near the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges. Our table was near the front entrance, but not so close that we felt any wind. The pizza was so hot when it came out that it immensely warmed us up, making us feel more durable for the walk ahead. After we ate and paid the check, we were hesitant to leave the 75-degree restaurant for the elements outside. It felt a whopping 60 degrees colder out there.. I mapped our walk and found it was going to be around 5.2 miles, which did not seem too much of a stretch, since many of the walks we had done prior were longer. To build our confidence for those miles ahead of us, we brought plenty of hand and foot warmers to place in our gloves and shoes. We each had winter beanies and thick North Face jackets over our sweatshirts. Plus, the warmth of the pizza still emanated in our bodies when we left the restaurant. “Mother Nature, do your worst!” I thought to myself as we began our cold quest.

After we left Grimaldi’s, we headed down Old Fulton Street to Prospect Street, where we were able to find a staircase to get to the Brooklyn Bridge. The bridge goes over the East River, where it is set up from northwest to southeast, connecting Brooklyn to Manhattan. Its total length is 6,016 feet, making it over 20 football fields long. You can see all of lower Manhattan from the bridge, including the One World Trade Center and the Statue of Liberty if you squint to the west. Since we were traveling in a northwest direction, the wind blew right in our faces, turning them as red as apples. Our saving grace was that the sun shined directly onto the bridge, so there were no shady spots, which helped our cause when the wind took breaks on us. Despite how frigid it was that January day, the bridge was full of tourists taking pictures and selfies. Navigating through them made me warmer; I could feel their body heat as I walked past. Each group of people stood no less than three feet from the other group. My dad and I were surprised to see so many people on the bridge despite the significant chill. The amount we saw was right on par with the same amount we would typically see during the spring and summer months. My dad told me that when tourists come from all over the world to New York City, they don’t give a damn whether it’s cold or not. We did the best we could to bask in the sunshine while on the bridge. In Manhattan, there is a heck of a lot more shade.

Once in Manhattan, a mile into our walk, my dad and I decided to follow Broadway up into Midtown, since it would take us to Times Square. When we first got on Broadway at Chambers Street, we had the sun on our shoulders, but three blocks later at Thomas Street, the sun went behind the buildings and skyscrapers where it stayed for at least 90 percent of the remainder of our walk. The shade made it feel another 10 degrees colder than it had originally—and 20 degrees colder every time the wind unleashed its fury. We were traveling northeast on Broadway, so the wind was hitting the left side of our bodies, and our faces were bright, tomato red, especially the left sides.

We got to the two-mile mark when we reached the intersection of Broadway and Canal Street. I contemplated calling it quits once I saw a subway entrance for Midtown and Uptown. “That toasty subway car would be nice right about now,” I hinted to my dad. 

“C’mon, bud,” he said. “We’re only two miles in, and I can keep going a little longer. We can always stop at a cafe for a hot drink if we find one along the way.” I debated for a second, then I agreed. After all, the price you pay for walking in New York City is the experience you get out of it.

At three miles, we reached Union Square Park, which overlooks busy 14th Street as well as several establishments including a Regal Cinemas on the park’s southern tip and a Starbucks on both sides of the park. There were a few pockets of sunshine throughout the park, but they were not enough to give us that same boost we had at the bridge. We saw another subway station for Midtown and Uptown, so I hinted to my dad again about what we should do, and he told me that he was still hanging in there, but he told me that if I was getting too cold we could get on one. I decided to have the same attitude as he did since we were more than halfway done with our walk and less than an hour from the restaurant. The hand and foot warmers we put on at Grimaldi’s were starting to lose their warmth, so we replaced them with new ones so we could have some relief for the remaining 2.2 miles going along shady Broadway.

At Union Square Park, I noticed that the park was abundant with squirrels, house sparrows, and rock pigeons. I’m jealous of how squirrels and birds have better survival methods than humans for the cold—especially birds because of their feather usage to trap heat. When I’m outside in the winter on an atrociously cold day, I wish I had the ability to become a house sparrow, not so I could fly away but so I could keep warm. Looking back on that day in New York City, I wish I could have stayed a sparrow until the first 70-degree day of spring.

 By four miles, we approached 28th Street and went past the Flatiron District. We knew we were getting close because our noses were assaulted by that powerful aroma which permeates Manhattan and is strongest in Midtown. It was 3 p.m,. the beginning of the evening commute. Like on the bridge, everyone was close to each other but slightly more apart, around five to six feet. However, since we were all in the shade, I could not feel everyone’s body heat as well as I did at the bridge. On top of the icy temperatures and crowds of people, the friction from my pants started to chafe my upper thigh on my right leg. There was only a mile left, but I once again felt like calling it quits. “Should we Uber to the restaurant?” I asked my dad in pain. 

“With rush hour starting, we’re better off walking. We’re almost there, anyway,” he said. I thought about what he told me, and I chose to be tough and not let the cold, the crowds, and pain in my leg slow me down.

By mile five, we reached 42nd Street. We could see all the bright and colorful lights from advertisements and billboards in Times Square since the sun was beginning to set. The quickest way had us going through Times Square and turning onto 46th Street. However, to avoid the wall of tourists and all the Elmo and Cookie Monster mascots looking for money for a photo-op, we chose to go west on 42nd to Eighth Avenue, and then to 46th. That route was slightly longer, but I would rather suffer in the cold with a rash on my right thigh than navigate through overcrowded Times Square only to risk $15 if Elmo or Cookie Monster pulled my dad or me aside for an unnecessary picture. 42nd Street was slightly crowded, but mainly it was folks coming in and out of the subway station, as well as Dallas BBQ, Regal Cinemas and Five Guys. Going up Eighth Avenue, I thought that if we had to go another 5.2 miles, I wouldn’t be able to handle it. Maybe during the summer I could, but not when the temperature was below 30 and the winds were still gusting above 25 miles per hour. I knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and it was right around the corner on 46th. There, I limped from Eighth Avenue all the way to Joe Allen, and I started to feel the same sense of accomplishment that I would get after I finished the final paper of the semester. As I opened the door to the restaurant, luxurious and gracious warmth greeted us, and the chills from our bodies began to dissipate. We didn’t feel the arctic blast anymore. It felt so nice to sit down and rest my weary legs.

If you are planning a trip to New York, make sure you look at the projected weather ahead so you can dress accordingly. Even though my dad and I were prepared to fight against the chill, I still get cold goosebumps thinking about the New York City walk I accomplished with my dad that frigid January afternoon, but I try to look at it with a positive perspective. The walk made me more resilient to cold weather, so I don’t feel as cold for an extended period when I’m in cooler environments. Not giving up during those 5.2 miles made me more confident in handling more strenuous and longer walks in the future. For instance, my dad and I have plans to walk along Manhattan’s West Side from Battery Park to the George Washington Bridge, an 11-mile journey. I feel that I will be up to the challenge someday, and we will try to do it during the warmer months, since we would have the freezing cold temperatures and the icy Hudson River to contend with. Walking in New York City with my dad is one of our favorite activities that we look forward to each time we go there, and we always take something away after exploring different sections and neighborhoods. When we go for our next walk and all walks thereafter, I hope that the weather will meet my expectations, but all I can say to Mother Nature is “Do your worst!”

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