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[Vegas on My Mind]

Reflections on extreme temperatures: The polar vortex vs. Las Vegas heat

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Freeze, please: Steve Friess prefers the polar vortex (and its amazing name) to the Vegas summer.
The Muskegon Chronicle, Ken Stevens/AP

We hadn’t left the house for days. The skies poured snow upon us the way a broken sugar dispenser unloads on Cheerios. And when the heavens were tapped out, along came a wave of frigid air to solidify the snow like that delicious self-hardening caramel sauce from Smuckers.

If all this tasty imagery befuddles you, here’s another stumper: We loved it. The blizzard, the dig-out, the awesomely named polar vortex. All of it.

It is, in fact, why we moved to Michigan. We just couldn’t believe how lucky we were to have this embarrassment of riches all in the same week! Space it out, we cried!

This is not satire. This is an answer. As all of this so-called “bad weather” bore down on us, I expected to be mocked by my parents in Florida and my friends in San Diego. But from pals in Las Vegas? The place where the mercury sits above 100 day and night for at least two months of the year?

“Boy I bet you wish you were here now,” a performer in Jubilee! snarked on my Facebook page after a photo showing me in full winter-shoveling regalia. A prominent chef, allegedly (and unconvincingly, given it wasn’t that warm out) lounging by his pool in Summerlin, mocked: “The sun is still shining here if you want to come back.”

I do want to come back—occasionally. I love Las Vegas, as I’ve said many times. I interviewed for my job at the Review-Journal in August 1996 on a day when the temperature exceeded 115, and as I ascended an escalator on the Strip in front of the MGM Grand, I couldn’t get over just how awesome that kind of heat felt. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t have stewed in it on and off for 15 years of my life.

But I also love the cold. The very, very cold. And snow. The more the better. My heart sinks when I look at the Yahoo weather forecast on my phone and see that “they” have taken away a little snowflake previously assigned for some day ahead. In the years Miles and I lived together in Vegas, we took our biggest vacations during the winter to Alaska, Montreal and Switzerland.

And now I’m going to say something controversial: If I had to choose between extreme heat (Vegas) and extreme cold (this week in Ann Arbor), I’m happier in the extreme cold.

When a polar vortex is upon you or a foot of snow is coming down or, god willing, both, everybody knows to hunker down. Neighbors check on one another. Preparations are made to stay in. Preparations are made if one must go out. Nobody looks at you funny if you show up somewhere and your hair’s a little bit messy.

In the Vegas heat, life proceeds as normal. Many people do stay indoors, but they don’t find the temperature a reason to stay home. I can’t recall ever hearing of anyone who said, “It’s fried-egg weather out there, I’m just going to stay in and binge on The Good Wife.”

What’s more, people are unforgiving when you show up somewhere stinky and drenched in sweat, no matter how understandable it may be. And there is no appropriate attire that quite fits most occasions; you can’t arrive for a premiere at the Smith Center in a bikini. But I can head down to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in long johns underneath slacks and my classy wool overcoat.

There’s also no physical transformation in very hot weather. It’s just very hot, perhaps very bright out. Here in Michigan, the world looks and acts different, the normal views change, the air smells fresher. In Vegas, the only time the air smells any different is when rain stirs up stagnant oil on the pavement after a downpour. And by the way, I love that smell. I wish they would make a scratch-and-sniff out of it for when I’m homesick.

You’re all certain we’ll tire of it soon, that the poetry we see in the cold will be replaced by four-letter words in due time. When we get older and our bones creak, you’re thinking, we’ll wonder what we liked about all of this.

Maybe. But right now, we look at the little snowflakes on the five-day forecast and tremble with giddy anticipation.

We just got a snow blower, you see, and we haven’t gotten to take it out for a spin.

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Steve Friess

Steve Friess is a freelance journalist based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His work has appeared in the New York Times, ...

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