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Saturday, November 29, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 27.0° F  Fog/Mist
The Daily
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Layers galore: How Madisonians who work and play outside in winter stay warm
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View photos of Madisonians bundling up for the cold.
Credit:David Medaris

Two pairs of socks. This is how Garfield Cunningham's list begins. Cunningham is a parking enforcement officer for the Madison Police Department. He spends his work days patrolling on foot, from one parking meter to the next. He checks to make sure parking meters with cars parked at them are not expired. If they have run out of time, he issues tickets. In winter, this makes for a lot of time out in the cold.

If you sit for a living in some downtown office building and look out your window, you may notice Cunningham strolling by on patrol. But it can be hard to discern him from other parking enforcement officers, because this time of year most of them tend to bundle up.

He dresses in layers, Cunningham says. Lots of layers. Two layers of socks on each foot, he allows. Wool socks, under a pair of impressive boots. Moving up from there, he continues, he's layered in long johns, wind pants, a vest, a turtleneck, two sweaters, fleece gloves (over glove liners), an MPD uniform jacket and a reflective visibility vest. The layers are topped off by a Seirus balaclava that looks insulated enough to keep his head and neck warm in the event he is caught off-guard by a speeding glacier.

The balaclava is the only item bearing a brand name. The important thing, Cunningham says, is the layering. "Dress warm for sure," he advises. Carrying an amenable attitude is also helpful, he adds. "To tell the truth, you get used to it," he says of all the time he spends in the cold.

Ruth Ann Phillips has had 19 years to get used to working out in the cold. That's how long she has been a crossing guard for Lowell Elementary School students. It's about 4 degrees and closing in on 8 a.m. as she waits to help the last of her charges cross the tricky intersection at Fair Oaks and Atwood Avenue.

Like Cunningham, her first line of defense against the winter chill is an insulating layer of long underwear. "Hand-warmers are a must," she adds, whipping off her Scandinavian mittens and brandishing one of the little heat packets she relies on. Phillips, too, is a big believer in layering. She has the unfortunate disadvantage of being allergic to wool, she allows, so she'll often wear four or five layers, "depending on how warm it is." One of the layers she is wearing this morning is a "real warm sweater," a fleece pullover. This is covered by a jacket, then a parka. She keeps her head and face warm with a face gaiter she got from the Schenk Huegel uniform company. Her feet are cozy in "very nice warm boots," she adds. "They're called Canadian Toe Warmers," she says, and she got them at Monona Bootery.

Bob Yu is wearing Sorel pac boots when an intruder interrupts his morning stand-and-hold meditation on Lake Monona. The sun is rising in a dry blue sky, casting a spectacular glowing light on the snow and on Yu, who joins the layering chorus. He is wearing wind pants over a pair of regular pants; two T-shirts, a turtleneck, a sweater and a fleece zip-up; a silk headcover under a wool cap; and a hooded parka with the hood up. "A friend gave me these snowmobile mittens," he says, holding his hands up. But for all that insulation, he adds, "the real thing is to get outside every day. You've got to get outside and walk around."

Icefishing is more recreational avocation than working as a crossing guard or parking enforcement officer. But the wisdom of layering -- whether applied to work or recreation -- insulates the distinction between the two. And with plenty of winter still to come, whether or not you get used to it, the important thing is to get outside every day -- and to stay warm while you're out.

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