When you get older, you get colder

People who know I grew up in New England have the wrong idea — they think I'm a Red Sox fan, a Patriots fan and one of those "hardy" people who walked a mile to school in the snow. Not true.

I gave up the Sox within minutes after sitting in Memorial Stadium to watch my first Baltimore Orioles game; Earl Weaver, rest his soul, was the manager.

The Patriots never got in my blood; they were easy to dump for the 1976 Baltimore Colts. The Colts had a great season, then lost in a playoff to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ten minutes after the game, a former MTA bus driver crashed his Piper Cherokee into the upper deck. Fortunately, most Colts fans had already left the stadium, so disaster was averted.

I thought that was pretty good for my first few months of covering news in the Queen City of the Patapsco Drainage Basin. The plane crash turned out to be the first of the many quirky, only-in-Baltimore stories that kept me around all these years.

As for the last part — the hardy New Englander who walked a mile to school in the snow — also not true. It was never a mile. It was more like three-quarters.

And I didn't exactly slog through the overnight snowfall.

In fact, the sidewalks were usually clear because Eddie Kenneally, a short man with a big horse, plowed them before 7 a.m.

I swear, it's true — he plowed the sidewalks of my hometown with a Belgian workhorse, and Eddie was Irish, not Amish.

If the snow was too big and arrived in the morning and Eddie couldn't do his thing with the horse, school was canceled. We knew this not from the radio but from the whistle on the power plant near the middle of town. If the whistle blew at 7 o'clock, there was no school. But that was very rare.

Is that enough quaint New England small-town nostalgia for you?

I swear, my memory is still excellent. What I have recounted are things that occurred in real life — not in a dream induced by Samuel Adams winter lager.

I think the old hometown only switched to mechanized sidewalk snow removal after Eddie Kenneally died, but by then I was in Baltimore, where I soon discovered that kids didn't go to school if there was the mere rumor of snow, and senior citizens went into a full Code Red panic if Bob Turk uttered the word.

At first I thought this was hilarious. I couldn't believe it. I used to make jokes about it. I was smug about my hardy New Englander-ness.

But then, one day in my Giant, I made a crack about elderly citizens swarming into the supermarket to stock up on milk, eggs and toilet paper, and a cashier put me in my place.

"They're not used to the snow, so cut 'em a break," she scolded me, in a firm, don't-mess-with-Bawlmer accent.

Ever since, I've kept my New England winter superiority complex to myself.

I have not indulged in a lot of sarcasm about the Baltimore region's snowanoia. (You take "snow" and add "paranoia" and you get "snowanoia.")

And I don't talk so much about how people around here talk so much about the cold. I leave that alone now.

Besides, I've become a Mid-Atlantic guy. I've shed my New England coat. I've started to feel winter in the bones, and it's not very comfortable. The current cold spell got under my skin, and — how do I put this? — three weeks in Fort Lauderdale never sounded so appealing.

Just yesterday, bundled up thick and walking along 25th Street in the wind, I got so cold — I mean, shivering cold —- I decided to consult a doctor.

The media relations staff at Johns Hopkins hooked me up with Neal Fedarko, a professor of geriatric medicine and gerontology at the medical school.

Simple question: Do we get colder as we get older?

"As we get older, we are certainly more sensitive to the cold," Fedarko said.

Next question: Why?

"Our ability to perceive, respond and regulate body temperature involves nerves, blood vessel dilation or constriction, and shifting blood flow between body core and extremities. When it is cold, we normally shiver, generating some heat, and constrict blood vessels in our skin.

"With increasing age, nerves require a greater stimuli to respond, and the rate and magnitude of the signals sent decreases. Thus, it takes a greater threshold to provoke a response and the response itself is diminished.

"An older individual may be less likely to have a robust automatic response to cold temperatures, such that their body temperature is not maintained in the optimal, comfortable range."

That's me, doc.

Thirty-seven years away from New England, spoiled by several mild Maryland winters, I find myself unable to have a robust automatic response to cold temperatures — and I never thought this day would come.

But that's life, right? It doesn't matter where you grew up, baby. You get older, you get colder.


Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad