While the rest of local civilization languished in this week's brutal heat, Omar Tulloch dressed for work just like always. Heavy boots. Heavy socks. Thick hood and long-sleeved thermal coat, under which he wore a dark-blue thermal jumpsuit that could do double duty on a ski slope.
And still Tulloch had goose bumps.
"It's the hands that usually get cold," he said yesterday, standing outside the small industrial warehouse in College Park where he loads pallet after pallet of rock-hard, subzero . . . ice cream. The job may not be that desirable in January, but on scorching July afternoons when the mercury's pushing--or passing--triple digits, there aren't too many better places to be in the Washington area than the 18-foot-high metal walk-in of Daval's Food Distributors on 51st Avenue.
"When you first come in in the morning from the hot sun, you go and cool off for a minute," Tulloch confessed with a grin.
(The fact that the freezer, which also measures 30 feet across and 60 feet deep, is filled with pints upon bars upon tubs of Ben & Jerry's and Haagen Dazs and Godiva and Starbucks ice cream is a separate attraction that will not be dealt with here. Suffice it to say, however, that Daval's may move enough butterfat weekly to clog the arteries of every man, woman and child in the state of Rhode Island.)
Working for sometimes hours per shift in a setting that rivals some of the coldest locations on Earth tends to put climate and temperature in perspective. On the same day that Washington hit a record 103 degrees, the Daval's freezer remained at a hypothermic minus 11 to minus 20 Fahrenheit, depending on how much ice cream was being moved in and out at any given hour for delivery.
"You go from hot to cold, hot to cold," said driver Todd Paige, who's so acclimated to it all that yesterday he was helping load wearing only shorts and a sweat shirt. "I'll take naps in the back of the [freezer] truck," he joked.
But minus 20 is no joking matter. That's cold enough to stop the ink in a reporter's pen in, well, mid-quote. That's also nearly as cold as the other night at McMurdo, Antarctica.
Of course, McMurdo, like Washington, has been suffering through a heat wave this week. "It's been quite warm the last four or five days," said Terry Melton, manager of the National Science Foundation's station there. By warm he meant highs in the single digits and lows of only minus 35. "Quite toasty," he remarked from the bottom of the world, where ice cream is consumed year-round.
"We have a soft-serve ice cream machine," Melton explained. "It's quite popular."
At the other extreme, at one of the hottest places on the planet, they also eat ice cream in Death Valley, Calif.--although if you live more than a few miles from the general store there, "you need something to carry it home in or it's a melted mass," advised Jim Collister, who answers the phone at Furnace Creek visitor station in Death Valley National Park.
By comparison to yesterday's practically temperate 93 degrees in Washington, the park was roasting at 111. But that high was more than a half-dozen degrees cooler than Tuesday and way, way off the record 129, set July 17, 1998.
"It's not so much that you ever get used to the heat," Collister said. "You get used to the idea of it. Okay, it's here again. Deal with it."
Which, back on 51st Avenue in College Park, they were. And from the depths of the Daval's freezer, great arctic gusts pushed forth every time owner David Weiner opened the massive door. Some summer days, he said, passersby stop to buy an Eskimo pie or Klondike bar. And some days, they laugh that they'll pay just for a few minutes in the deep freeze.
In the business he's in, said Weiner, "everybody's your best friend in the summer."
CAPTION: David Weiner peeks into the ice cream freezer to check on his employees, including Omar Tulloch, at Daval's Food Distributors in College Park. While the area wilts, Daval's workers spend hours chilling out in subzero temperatures.
CAPTION: From left, Steve Pasternak, Bill Cusick and co-workers at Daval's Food Distributors in College Park put on their freezer suits as they come back to work from lunch. The men spend their time loading and unloading pallets of ice cream.