It has been one of the most miserable winters in years: mountains of snow, slippery ice, an entire month of freezing temperatures. But now spring, at least officially, is only a month away, conjuring thoughts of warmer days ahead.
But what about right now? Before another cold snap could set in, four writers set out in search of something hot, or at least warm.
Here -- from a hot seat to a hot streak -- is what they found. Until the temperature starts rising for good, we'll take the heat any way we can get it.
The hot tubbers
The air is 20 degrees. The water in the hot tub is 103. And somewhere in between are Peter Bell and Lise Satterfield, standing outside, wearing nothing but swimsuits.
Sometimes, to get hot, you first have to get cold.
"It's a bear to get out here," says Satterfield. "But once you're out here, it's worth it."
For most people, a sub-freezing evening with a forecast of snow is a good excuse to stay inside under a blanket. But for winter hot-tubbers like Satterfield and Bell, the frigid weather is all the more reason to go outside dressed for summer.
Nothing - not freezing rain, not snow showers, not the dreaded "wintry mix" - can keep them from using the hot tub outside their Monkton home all year round. Even on nights like this one, when they step out their back door and see their breath in the chilly air.
Why should the weather stop them? When it rains, they can wear hats. When it snows, they can shovel a path from the back porch. The hard part - the part when they shed their fluffy robes and bare their flesh to the winter air - lasts only a few moments. Once they step into the bubbling oasis of heat, winter is forgotten. The couple lies back in the foamy water and looks up at the stars, immune to the cold, shrouded in a haze of steam.
"It feels great," says Satterfield. "It feels like you've gone back into the womb. It's totally relaxing."
- Lisa Pollak
The hot car
"This is not an everyday car," says Martin Belton. "It's more a summer car."
Oh, I think I can deal with that.
Martin - all 6-foot-6 of him - is wedged into the passenger seat of a factory-fresh Nissan 350Z, the top-selling sports car in America. Martin used to race cars in his native Trinidad but now sells them at Nationwide Nissan in Timonium.
I'm in the driver's seat. I have never raced cars. I'm just sick of de-icing my underwear every morning. And nothing says sun, fun and summertime better than a silver-bullet sports car shooting down an open road.
We head north on Interstate 83. The sky is a cloudless, mid-July blue. It has unleashed my Inner Vacationer. I'm wearing sunscreen and wraparound sunglasses. My Beach Boys' greatest hits CD is pumping out surfer music.
Only thing wrong with this picture is that I'm wrapped like a burrito in my fleece vest and Anorak jacket: We've got the top down on the Z. The temperature is 28 degrees. I feel the wind blowing worry lines off my forehead.
Still, it's summer behind the wheel.
" ... and she'll have fun, fun, fun till her daddy takes the T-Bird away-y-y-y ... "
Martin tells me there are no speed limits in Trinidad. He also tells me that if a cop pulls a customer over on a test drive, the car salesman gets the speeding ticket.
A green Jaguar looms dead ahead. Suddenly, the Jag's in our rearview mirror. Miracles are made with 287-horsepower engines.
When we return to Nationwide Nissan I reluctantly hand the Z keys back to Martin. As he walks into the dealership I can see his shadow stretching across the parking lot.
I think that means six more weeks of hardtop weather.
- Tom Dunkel
The hot streak
South Hagerstown High School basketball player David Miner knows people say he is on a hot streak, but if you ask him about it he's just a point guard playing a game.
Miner, an 18-year-old senior, went into the Feb. 12 game against Brunswick High fully aware he was 14 points away from breaking his school's career points record. The record, set by Scott Kidd in 1988, was 1,486 points.
But Miner didn't talk about it beforehand. He didn't see the need to. Neither did his coach Bob Starkey, who says of Miner: "I've been coaching 46 years and he's as good as they come." Miner has been averaging 35 points a game all season, so the hot streak has almost become old hat.
The night he broke the school record, Miner did what he always does before a home game: He went to a friend's house, ate four or five pieces of Meat Lover's pizza and slept for an hour.
It doesn't sound like magic, but it works. Now the question is: Can the hot streak last long enough for Miner to break the record for all of Washington County?
With a few games left in the season, and five potential post-season games, Miner is about 150 points away from topping the record 1,782 points scored by Smithburg High's Colby Bachtell in 1993.
Does Miner think he can beat it?
If he does, he isn't saying.
This hot streak has taught him to play the game and not worry about the attention - or the questions - it can bring.
When you're hot, you're hot.
When you're not, you're not - and nobody asks you what you ate before the game.
- Larry Bingham
The hot seat
Detective Donny Moses doesn't know if it's for psychological reasons or if the price was right, but the "hot seat" in the Baltimore Police Department's homicide division is not your standard yellow.
The chairs used for questioning homicide suspects are basic plastic models - the type you'd find in a school cafeteria - only alarmingly bright. Imagine a lemon crossed with a caution sign, under a glaring sun.
Fitting perhaps for a "hot seat."
The phrase was first used in the 1920s as slang for the electric chair, but it later came to apply to anyone who is in trouble or being interrogated.
More recently it has been used to describe the position of anyone answering questions, even if they're not in trouble, such as a job applicant or a game show contestant.
On the fifth floor of police headquarters, though - the home of the homicide division - it's the wheels of justice, not fortune, that are grinding.
There are two interview rooms, each with white walls, concrete floors, a table, a see-through mirror and a microphone hanging from the ceiling. What goes on can be seen, and heard over a telephone receiver, in an adjoining observation room.
The lighting is bright, but diffuse - no beam shines down on the sweating suspect.
The chairs are more contemporary than retro, with sleek black legs, and no cushions.
"This isn't a hotel." Moses said. "You don't want them to be totally relaxed."
Police rarely use the term "hot seat" to describe a suspect being questioned. More commonly, they say a suspect is "in the box" - not to be confused with "on the box," slang for a polygraph test.
While suspects may sweat in the box, police say, the term "hot seat" is actually more often heard in connection with officers - when they are in trouble with the brass.
- John Woestendiek
They met five months ago when Galina Borodkina, the social worker from Jewish Family Services, introduced them.
Rebecca Ruggles, 50, is director of special projects for the nonprofit Mid-Atlantic Association of Community Health Centers. She accompanied her sister to Kazakhstan to adopt a baby and came back determined to learn Russian.
Kapitalina Kostrytsya, 70, came to this country to be with her daughter just three months after her husband died last year. She lives in a high-rise on Park Heights Avenue surrounded by other seniors like her who speak little English.
Neither woman spoke the other's language when they met, but Galina felt she had made a great match. "Like a bingo," Galina said.
And she was right.
Rebecca visits her student twice a week before going to work. Kapitalina makes her teacher little apple pancakes with sour cream and serves tea from a kettle she brought from the Ukraine.
They eat together before their lessons begin and they share more than food. Rebecca, who lives alone, feels like someone is taking care of her. Kapitalina, who lives alone, feels like she has an American friend.
They go shopping sometimes, and once they went to the Baltimore Museum of Art. Kapitalina still has trouble with words like "beautiful" and "daughter" - so many letters but so few sounds - and Rebecca is still learning Russian. Many times they get frustrated because there is so much they want to say but don't know how.
There is a phrase they say to each other when that happens.
"I love you."
It's a phrase both understand.
- Larry Bingham