New York heat wave: So hot, even ice cream can't tempt people outside

New York is making it through its heat wave with minimal disruptions so far. But suit jackets have been dispensed with, shawarma isn't selling, and even ice cream vendors want things to cool off.

Mary Altaffer/AP
A woman uses a magazine to fan herself while waiting for the trains at the Barclays subway station Thursday in New York. A heat advisory remains in effect for the New York metropolitan area.

When it’s as hot as it has been this week, some clammy wag will quip one of those you-know-you’re-a-real-New-Yorker-when observations: In a summer heat wave, you consider the rush of wind from an approaching subway car to be “a nice breeze.”

And it’s true. As New York endures its fourth day of a heat wave climbing steadily towards triple digits, the roar of an oncoming train can sometimes provide a second or two of relief for a few of New York’s some 5 million subway riders.

But many of them stayed home Thursday, and subway platforms and cars appeared to carry fewer shoulder-to-shoulder rush-hour commuters than usual. Yet, while the tongue-hanging weather is altering some of the normal rhythms of the city – the humidity-calibrated "heat index" is already making it feel 101 degrees Thursday, and it’s supposed to get up to 105 degrees on Friday, The Weather Channel says – there have been few widespread problems.

At the hottest part of the day on Thursday, Con Ed is reporting only a handful of active outages affecting only 78 customers citywide – and not a single outage in Manhattan. And though the company said it might break all-time usage records this week, it has extra crews on call to handle possible power losses.

"What we're doing right now is, we've basically got all hands on deck, we've buttoned up the system, and now we're just ready to respond to whatever comes our way,” said John Miksad, Con Ed's senior vice president for operations, in a video statement earlier this week.

But as workers around the city are changing some of their daily routines to adjust to the heat, blasts of air-conditioned cool abound.

Just after noon on Thursday, George Spencer and Kevin Talbot, two Jamaican pipe fitters from the Bronx, step onto a Manhattan-bound subway platform in dusty jeans and sweat-soaked T-shirts. Fluorescent-green hard hats hang on heavy tool bags on their shoulders.

“I’m used to it – I’m used to working in these boiler rooms in all these hot basements,” says Mr. Spencer. “The humidity, though – it’s different here.” He and Mr. Talbot started at 6 a.m. to avoid the heat – and the subway crowds.

“It can get claustrophobic at times,” Talbot says, as they step onto the train to end their work day early. “But right now, it’s nice.” There are only 13 people in the subway car, and the air conditioning makes it feel almost Arctic.   

The city, too, is telling people, “Use air conditioning to stay cool, drink water to avoid dehydration, limit strenuous activity” on its website. And the city is providing about 425 cooling centers in air-conditioned public community centers and public libraries to offer residents relief from the heat – especially the elderly.

Alex Duenas, a Venezuelan vendor from Queens, sits in a tightly-sealed Fun-Time Frostee ice cream truck on the corner of 51st and 6th Ave. in Manhattan. It’s refrigerator-cool inside as a generator hums on the roof.

“People are staying in their office, out of the heat,” says Mr. Duenas, after sliding his window open a crack. “People think I make more money when it’s hot, selling ice cream, but it really doesn't start to pick up until after 5.” He works 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. at this corner, six days a week. “You have to put in the hours to make money, but, really, it’s a lot harder when it’s so hot.”

On the street near him, a few hurried New Yorkers in white button-down shirts and suit pants – no jackets or ties today – linger a moment in front of hotel as a blast of A/C pours out the open doors. Two vendors at a halal shawarma cart crouch in the shade with wet towels on their heads. For 15 minutes during the height of lunch hour they get no customers interested in spicy lamb and rice.

Farther downtown, the heat, too, prompted some cheeky theologian at The Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church in Manhattan to arrange a lettered message in its old, glassed-in outdoor bulletin: “The Devil called. He wants his weather back.”

But it’s only going to get hotter Friday.

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