Duluth, Minn. — On Monday morning, about coffee break time, a sign outside one of the banks in downtown Duluth was flashing the temperature. It said -11. There was just a puff of north wind, and that put the wind chill at about -30. Any skin you left uncovered started to burn and throb about a minute after you got outdoors.
But all over downtown you could see people nipping outside for a fast smoke. Some of them took two or three quick puffs, and then threw their cigarettes down and ran back inside. Other people took their time. A man who gave his name as Mark stood on the steps of City Hall in a sport coat and a tie.
"It's cold, but that's the sacrifice I make in order to smoke," he said."I wouldn't be standing here if it was for pure enjoyment. But when that nicotine craving hits, you've got to do something about it."
My hand is like a block of ice. And it sucks.
Mark's head and hands were bare in the biting wind.
"I can smoke a cigarette down in about three minutes and 30 seconds," he said. "But beyond that, it's far too cold to be out here dressed like this."
Across the street, about a dozen telemarketers stood on the sidewalk, their shoulders hunched and their faces wincing. "My hand is like a block of ice," said Erin Mahnke between puffs. "And I've only been out here for not even two minutes. And it sucks."
This is her second smoke break of the day.
"And it's almost worth not coming out here," she says. "You almost want to say 'I don't want a cigarette,' but you want one, so you got to come outside."
She takes another puff, laughs, shrugs her shoulders and says, "I'm addicted."
Paul Deal stood next to her smoking his a pipe.
"Ten minutes in and out, and you're glad to get back in the warm," he said of his strategy for the smoke break. "So it's freeze out, and then get warm again. Have a smoke and you're in good shape for the next hour."
Around the corner, Margaret Bisek stood alone in a storefront doorway.
"I'm having a cigarette, and I'm cold," she said.
Bisek takes about five smoke breaks a day. When the weather's bad, she keeps her breaks short.
"I really don't mind it, having to come out," she says. "It gets me away from my computer. I'm hearty and I live in Minnesota, and I don't mind."
But doesn't a day like this give her second thoughts about smoking?
"On a nice warm summer day I often think, oh, I really should stop this," she says. "It's expensive. It's unhealthy. It truly is an addiction. So on a cold day I still think it's an addiction and I should quit. But here I am."
When Margaret Bisek comes out for a smoke later this week, it'll be a few degrees warmer. But it's supposed to be really windy.