Bench Warmers

You know that oft-misquoted quote commonly attributed to Mark Twain about the coldest winter he ever spent being a summer in San Francisco?

Well, I think I’ve rarely felt more frozen from head to toe than as a spectator at “spring” track meets in southern Minnesota. Parents and fans of other spring sports–softball, baseball, tennis, golf–surely have their own chilly tales of woe, but with two teenage tracksters in my family, I am most familiar with the brittle, practically dry ice feel of the metal bleachers at Worthington’s Trojan Field and other high school stadiums around the area.

This comes to mind because Tuesday–that day of cutting winds, ice bombs and limbs dropping unexpectedly from trees and stormy skies–was to have been the date of Worthington High School’s second outdoor track meet of the season. Mercifully, it was postponed in anticipation of the nasty incoming weather–but already the extended forecast for its rescheduled time is showing a high of no more than 47. Last Friday’s meet at Slayton was scarcely better, in any case. Another commitment prevented me from attending that meet, but when my husband returned, chilled to the bone and lacking gloves, he reported that the most wanted man on site was the guy offering to lend his lumberjack hat, earflaps and all, to whoever had earlobes on the verge of frostbite.

That’s how it goes at these track meets; you’ll never get closer to other parents, friends and strangers than when you huddle in clumps, desperately seeking warmth and shelter in the presence of multiple humans, as draughts of wind smack you in the face until you feel like whimpering and your thighs begin to clatter against the bleachers.

The most popular people are the ones who show up with flannel, fleece or stadium blankets in tow and appear to be willing to share an edge, whether to sit on or fling over your coldest body part of the moment. (Greet those folks with a big, friendly smile and do your best to look welcoming.) There’s always some sad individual (and haven’t we all been that person at one time or another?) who pathetically underestimates the weather conditions and saunters up to the spectator stands in shirt sleeves, capris or a light jacket when the situation clearly calls for thermal long johns, mittens with hand warmers, parkas and wooly scarves for simple survival. Men in that position usually try to tough it out, alternately jabbing their hands in their pockets for warmth or blowing on them and trying to look stoic, while women beg someone, anyone, for an extra article of clothing in a futile effort to feel comfortable.

At three to four hours in duration, track meets are typically longer than football games, and watching skinny teens leap hurdles, vault over the high jump bar, hand off cold metal batons with bare palms or run a mile or two in nothing but skimpy short-shorts and loose nylon tank tops doesn’t exactly make a person feel warmer.

Hungry–it makes you hungry, that’s what it does. In the stands at track meets, I’ve shared pistachios, peanut M & Ms, yogurt raisins, popcorn and bits of granola bars, or chowed down on hot dogs, pizza and candy bars, all while vainly craving a hot, home-cooked meal. You’ve never seen a group of adults drool faster or sport such a look of collective longing as when a more-organized-than-the-rest-of-us mom arrived (with blanket in hand) and informed us a Crock Pot of beef stew and fresh-baked corn bread awaited her family at home following a meet when the temperature stood at about 45 and the wan sun had already dropped behind a threatening array of gray clouds by 5:10 p.m.

Chasing the chill with coffee or hot chocolate is also popular, but then you have to rise from the huddle to visit the restrooms–which invariably seem even colder than the outdoor air, not to mention requiring (for women, at least) even greater “northern exposure.”

And why is it that 50 degrees in April or May can feel colder than the same temperature in October? Maybe because we’re EXPECTING it to be spring? ¬†Brrrr.

At least onlookers are motivated to cheer with great conviction, “Run FASTER!”

C’mon, we’re freezing out here.

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