Layering up in fight against the cold

At 30th Street Station, taxi stand manager Frederick Thomas shows all the layers he's wearing to keep warm. He also stocked up on hand warmers.
At 30th Street Station, taxi stand manager Frederick Thomas shows all the layers he's wearing to keep warm. He also stocked up on hand warmers. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 30, 2014

Before heading out for his 8 a.m. shift at the University of Pennsylvania on Tuesday, security guard Luther Babb slathered his face with Vaseline.

"It's the oldest trick in the book to fight this cold," said the 44-year-old from West Oak Lane. The temperature outside was 12 degrees, with a wind chill of 5 below zero.

Frederick Thomas, who runs the taxi stand at 30th Street Station, stocked up on hand warmers.

Hemo Abdelaziz, the owner of a University City food truck, held his bare hands above a grill for as long as he could - the only source of warmth in an otherwise freezing space.

"It's so cold in here that it's tough to even move," Abdelaziz said.

The three men, like many in the area in the coldest, bitterest January in recent memory, spent hours working outside because their jobs required it. From parking attendants to deliverymen, there was one consensus about how to keep warm on a day like Tuesday: layers. Lots of them.

There were no secret weather-busting techniques, no special exercises, no uplifting meditations. Just layers.

After peaking at 21 shortly after midnight, the official temperature never got past the teens in Philadelphia on Tuesday. While they haven't been sustained, the cold outbreaks this month have been impressive. Three times this month the high has failed to reach 20, and it got awfully close Tuesday. Officially, before this season, Philadelphia had only five such days in the last 10 years, and this is the first time it had three in the same winter in 20 years.

The sub-20 temperatures, however, appear to be short-lived.

Wednesday's forecast offers a pleasant high of 25 degrees, and we could all be in the 40s over the weekend. That would offer a brief preview of a spring that for many feels months away.

"It's not pleasant being out here," said Paul Gupta, who owns a newsstand in University City. "But you have to pay the bills."

He had lined the front of his newsstand with sheets of plastic to stave off the early-morning chill Tuesday.

"I don't think you ever get used to cold like this," said David Roche, a parking attendant near City Hall, "but you have to be prepared."

Still, he began to lose feeling in a couple of fingertips within minutes after arriving at work at 9 a.m. because of two small rips in his gloves.

Isaiah Wise, a bellman at Center City's Hilton Garden Inn, approached Tuesday by not thinking about the frigid temperatures.

Several times throughout the day, Wise found himself outside without a coat, hat, or gloves.

"My job is about being quick," he said. "If you don't have your gloves or hat on to begin with, the guests aren't going to wait for you."

Unlike Wise, Jason Carr, who started his delivery route for Canada Dry at 5 a.m. when the temperature was 16 degrees, decided early on that it was going to be a six-layer day.

"On days like this," said Carr, "it's mind over matter out here."

215-854-2619 @szweifler

Inquirer staff writer Anthony R. Wood contributed to this article.

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