The first and only year that I attended Appalachian State University the school cancelled classes for four days because of bad weather, tripling the number of times it had closed in the entire 87 years of its history. Locking my car I mentally noted its location in
the likely event that another snowfall would render it one of many non-descript, white hillocks in the Horn in the West lot. The Southern Appalachian Historical Association annually sponsors the Horn in the West "outdoor drama," which details the hardships of late 18th-century pioneers and generally ignores the fates of several indigenous tribes that were there first. When not showing this dramatic reenactment the parking area was used for the cars of freshman, which I was. It was no doubt very cold in the late 1780's and contributed to the pioneer's miseries. Afflicted by cold and entitlement, I thought I could sympathize with them a little as I started trudging the mile to campus.
Part of my lack of preparation, or simple disrespect, for the cold was to wear a flannel shirt under a sleeveless coat with the ubiquitous pair of jeans. I didn't get to the edge of the parking lot when my mustache (lots of normal people had them back then) froze and my arms went numb. My feet provided only enough warmth to melt the snow on my shoes, promptly freezing them to my feet. In my defense I didn't find out until later that the next day would go on record as the coldest day of the century, or that it would reach -24 degrees. It's not as historically relevant, but I would also like to note that the air doesn't smell clean and pure when it's minus-20 degrees below zero. It burns your nostrils and ceases to have any odor.
Not to paint too dramatic of a picture, but I started seriously thinking about how I was going to make it back to campus. I came to the conclusion that an intermediate stop was necessary. The Subway restaurant at the bottom of the hill was, incredibly, open on an icy Sunday and serving coffee. I hated coffee then, and still only drink hot chocolate with the word "coffee" whispered over it three times, but this situation qualified as an emergency. The coffee tasted like green pond water but it was hot green pond water. The regrettable orange and yellow walls force-fed some cheer into me as I started to get reacquainted with my extremities. Fortified, I reluctantly staggered back to my dorm thinking about the future.
My subsequent departure in the Spring facilitated a jarring romantic breakup, meeting my first wife, the birth of our daughter, and many other events both memorable and mundane. Four decades on and I'm still walking away from that frozen hill on a slate-gray afternoon.