Monday, February 5, 1996
Answer for 'Cold enough?' a chilling stare

BY CLIFF RADEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Cold enough for you?

The cashier's words hung dangerously in the air of the car-parts store like foot-thick icicles dangling from an expressway overpass.

He said them with a grin. But they were met with a growl.

I wanted to slug him with my jug of antifreeze. And, I wasn't alone. Dan, the auto mechanic with his name stitched on the front of his jacket, seethed in line behind me.

''That's Elliott, the idiot,'' he mutterered. ''Thinks he's funny.''

Dan was not amused.

''He's workin' inside. Where it's warm. Let him work outside on frozen cars all day. Then see what he has to say.''

He wiped his nose.

''I'd like to kick his butt,'' he added. ''But my feet are frozen.'' Join the club.

Everybody's like Dan, cold and cranky. We've had enough of winter.

Stop! No more!

''Mother Nature has had some weird ways with us this winter,'' noted trucker Alex McKillop. He was backing his rig into the parking lot of the Goodyear tire store in Forest Park.

Put it this way, he was trying to back up his truck and unload his cargo of tires.

But, every time he'd put his semi into reverse, he'd hit a small patch of ice. His wheels would spin, his truck would go nowhere and he'd shake his head.

''We've had it all this winter,'' he said as he prepared to make yet another pass. ''Sleet, ice, snow, cold, subzero temperatures, gettin' caught on the cut in the hill of I-75 and slippin' around, totally out of control. We've had enough of it all.''

Fact is, we've had more than enough.

''We saw more snow in January than we typically get in an entire wintertime storm season,'' said Tim Hedrick, Channel 12's meteorologist.

When he delivers the bad news on his winter weather reports, you don't need to listen to ''Tim's no-wait weather.'' All you have to do is count the furrows on his brow. When they pass 10, you know we're in big trouble. The White Death is coming . . . along with another round of grumping and griping about the cold.

The medical term for this crankiness is ''cabin fever,'' said Dr. Michael Sayre, UC assistant professor of emergency medicine. ''People get depressed from a lack of sunshine and the cold. You've had the worst of both this winter.''

That leads to a condition he diagnosed as ''we want to see some flowers.''

The spring thaw

''People are just a little bit eager for spring,'' Mr. Hedrick said with a high-pressure system of understatement, ''even though we have plenty of winter left.''

Count me in that number. And I am not one to rush the seasons. You'll never see me cheering when the Christmas displays go up in the stores right after the Fourth of July. But, this winter, I am hankering for spring.

Especially after a weekend where the thermometer was set on ''Arctic.'' With wind-chill factors in the double digits below zero, after a few minutes outside your thighs felt like somebody had strapped plates of armor to your legs. It was so cold Saturday and Sunday - ''by far the coldest air mass to come through here of the season,'' said Mr. Hedrick - today's predicted high in the upper 20s will seem like a heat wave.

''When the temperature drops below zero, that's a more northern cold,'' Mr. Hedrick noted. ''People aren't used to that around here. So, they grump.''

''Damn right!'' said Tina Botkin. She had just righted herself after doing some impromptu figure skating in the parking lot of the Forest Park Skyline chili parlor.

''I'm fed up to here with winter,'' she said, running a cold, ungloved hand across her forehead. ''I might just go home and pretend I'm in Florida until spring comes.''

Frank Von Hoene doesn't think he'll have to wait that long.

''All we have to do is get through February,'' he said warming his hands on a cup of coffee after polishing off a chili three-way and a coney in the restaurant. ''Then we're finished with the cold stuff. And, spring and summer are just around the corner.''

Good. I can hardly wait.

Then, we can start griping about the heat.

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Available to speak to groups. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.