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A Tortured Walk in a Deep Freeze

In a few weeks I’ll be in Minnesota working with a new client. The first time I visited the twin cities was in the mid 1980’s. It was August and it was 32 degrees when I arrived. You don’t forget something like that.

When I first speak with any of that client’s team members, or anyone in Minnesota for that matter, somehow I feel obliged to relate that story. It must be boring for them. I’m sure they hear stories like that all the time from guys like me from warmer climes. 

I know how it feels from their perspective.  When people learn I live on Martha’s Vineyard they ask, “Isn’t that where Jaws was filmed?”—yes, or “Don’t the Kennedys live there?”—Not really.  Caroline now owns her mother’s place here—the rest of the clan are at Hyannis Port on Cape Cod.  Sometimes people will ask me about JFK Jr.’s plane or Chappaquiddick. Sadly, this is that place. 

In any case, I’ve been sharing the following story with the new client. They like it because there is someplace colder than St. Paul.  It’s a perfect story for a hot summer day.

Suzy Allman for The New York Times

Photo: Suzy Allman for The New York Times

A Tortured Walk in a Deep Freeze
As it appeared in the NY Times, Feb. 22, 2005

I was delivering a speech at a company’s annual sales meeting in Edmonton, Alberta, home of the infamous Alberta clipper storms that were responsible for most of the snow dumped in the northern Midwest of the United States this winter.

My assistant warned me it would be very cold when I arrived. “Bring long underwear and your warmest clothes,” she said. “In fact, you should put your long underwear on before you leave the plane.”

I nodded. No way was I doing that.

It was minus 32 degrees Centigrade when we landed. “Pretty cold, eh?” the Air Canada pilot remarked as we pulled up to the gate. I tried to recall my high school lesson on temperature conversion. Was it 5/9 of C minus 32? Or 32 plus 5/9 of C?

You don’t feel that kind of cold for the first few minutes, so the short walk out of the terminal in Edmonton to the taxi was anticlimactic. It seemed like no big deal.

The next morning I decided to walk the five blocks from my hotel to the site of my speech. It was 6:30 a.m., and I had yet to hear the day’s weather forecast. Out of concern, the hotel’s night manager was summoned when I asked for directions. “Why don’t you take a taxi?” he asked.

Was he serious? A taxi for five blocks? I grew up in the Bronx. I could handle the cold.  And for the first few minutes, I could. As I made my way to the meeting, wearing layer upon layer, I didn’t feel a thing. The street was deserted. These Canadians sure are thin-skinned, I thought.

Then, it hit me without warning. Excruciating pain knifed through every one of my sinus cavities. I reflexively wrapped my scarf around my mouth, nose and ears even tighter and plowed on. Only two and a half blocks to go. I was channeling the Mount Everest climber and author, Jon Krakauer, of Into Thin Air.

I decided to pick up the pace, despite a thick sheet of ice caked on the sidewalks. Bad decision. Moving faster only increased my need for oxygen. I was now sucking more air and coughing violently as my alveoli went cryogenic.

One block left.

Come on, I thought. I’ve jumped out of a plane, walked on hot coals, mountain-biked across northern Thailand. I could do this.

I remembered a story about what happens when you spit in very cold weather. I just had to try it. I removed my scarf just long enough to spit. It froze before it hit the ground.
Finally, there I was. I opened the door, walked inside, and ended my tortured walk in the deep freeze.

I related my story to my audience that morning. It gave new meaning to the term icebreaker. They thought I was nuts. “Why didn’t you take a taxi?” someone asked.

I later learned that the average low temperature in Edmonton in January is 1 degree Fahrenheit. That morning it was minus 53 Centigrade with the wind chill factor. That’s a whopping minus 63 Fahrenheit.

Back in my office, I proudly related the experience to my assistant (careful to leave out the part about not wearing long underwear). To which she replied, “Why didn’t you take a taxi?”

(As told to Christopher Elliott, NY Times)


2 Responses

  1. What you don’t realize, Dave, is that the frigid temperatures in Minnesota have a positive impact on sales expertise.

    What other state do you know that can tout the following top sales experts?
    – Larry Wilson
    – Harvey McKay
    – Harry Beckwith
    – Jeff Thull
    – Brian Carroll
    – and I’ll throw myself in too!

    And the frigid temps impact politics too! How many other states have elected a pro wrestler as their governor.

    Glad you’re coming back to Minnesota after 20 years. Hopefully we’ll have a chance to connect!

  2. Glad you are coming up to God’s country even though summertime is…well, easy. If you come back in January you will receive many more accolades.

    Two words for you: Winter Carnival

    Hope to see you when you are up here.

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