Employees spend summer sweating to pay the bills

Jobs must get done outdoors despite heat

July 21, 2005|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

The meteorologists said a cold front came through Baltimore yesterday. But standing over a smoking 100-gallon drum, DaRon Battle wasn't feeling it.

He and his stepbrother, Jake Davis, get the pit-beef grill outside their father's Falls Road store to 170 degrees by 9 a.m. and keep it going all day. They stand in the shade of Shorty's Pit Beef and Country Store and gulp ice water and Gatorade between orders -- most of which they've memorized and shout to their regular customers by way of greeting.

Forget hello. "Medium rare?" Battle says to an Elkridge carpet salesman who dashes into the store, where three air conditioning units are running on max.

Maybe this isn't the sweatiest job to have in July, but watching Davis and Battle flip slabs of meat is enough to rethink complaining about the weather.

"You get used to it," says Davis. "We're out here in the snow, too. We shovel and start cooking. I like this weather better."

A pit-beef man lives by the heat. Baltimoreans can't live on snowballs alone, and who wants to turn on the oven or fire up a grill when it's this hot and humid? Shorty's guys.

By 2 p.m., they've sold out of Italian sausage, fed a stream of landscaping crews, and given a sandwich and directions to a lost tourist who happened across the stand and store just north of St. Paul's School.

When the lunch rush ends, they've heard about every variation on the jokes about sizzling eggs and predictions that it's got to be 100 in the shade. A lot of "Man, how can you stand there like that?"

The answer, Davis tells them: "I've got to pay the rent, just like you."

He and his brother aren't the only ones trying to keep the sultry situation in perspective.

"It's only 88 degrees in Bawlmer," Jim DeCarufel, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said yesterday.

"A weak cold front came in overnight, and through the early morning hours that dropped the humidity a little bit," DeCarufel said. Today, he said, Baltimoreans can expect "more of the same."

Through tomorrow, highs should be in the upper 80s and low 90s. The humidity returns tomorrow afternoon, with thunderstorms expected, he said.

The trend hasn't helped Roy King, who opened his Bel Air produce stand a week later than normal this year because of the summer heat. While the spring brought plenty of rain to his Eastern Shore farm, the heat dried up much of the moisture and delayed his crops' growth.

"Spring is supposed to gradually come into summer," King said at his stand on Main Street. "This year it went from real cool to real hot."

In the Eldersburg area of Carroll County, Herb Hilton's crew was patching potholes yesterday. His assignment for the day was one dreaded by road workers: holding the "stop" and "slow" sign.

"When you're back there working, the time flies. But up here, 30 minutes feels like six hours," said Hilton, 30, with sweat dripping from his hat under a sweltering morning sun.

The crew's foreman, Max Kuznik, 51, of Hanover, Pa., said he reminds his workers to take frequent breaks in the shade and to drink plenty of water.

"Standing over that blacktop, which is about 325 degrees, you have to pace yourself," he said.

In Howard County yesterday, Jim McElroy, 44, of Woodbine was helping to build a children's splashpad next to Columbia's Hopewell community swimming pool. As if the constant concrete dust wasn't irritating enough, he watched people lounging poolside and swimming in the cool aqua water.

"It's hell, no fun at all working out here," McElroy said, asking a co-worker to spray him with a hose used to wash the concrete.

Angie Hughes, along with a few other teenagers, has been hired over the summer to show motorists how to use the parking meters in Annapolis. She said she comes prepared each day with "sunscreen, water, more water and just an umbrella."

"It's a lot like camp," she said. Except without the trees.

Claire Burnham, who was delivering menus to Shorty's and picking up lunch, stepped inside the store and welcomed the 20-degree drop in temperature. But Hazel Norment, a 72-year- old Lutherville native who works the register, said she doesn't like the air-conditioning, adding, "I never turn it on at home."

Norment, who was once known as "Miss Snow Ball" because she worked at a stand nearby, these days makes the coleslaw and potato salad for Shorty's. And from her perch behind the cash register, she hands a rose to every woman who comes through the door.

Shorty -- legally Dwayne Davis -- is at his brother's wedding in Las Vegas. He started grilling for neighbors in the parking lot of an Owings Mills apartment complex. About 10 years ago, he started working a pit at the now-closed Windy Valley store in Greenspring Station, where he developed a loyal following. Last summer, Shorty, who is 5-feet, 2-inches tall, bought his current store.

"Shorty calls it something like Mayberry," says Battle.

Battle offers a slice of turkey to Mike Weatherstein, a fuel truck driver who has come to fill the station's gas tanks.

It takes about 30 seconds for the talk in the store to turn to weather.

"I've got to stand out in this all day," says Weatherstein, his face red and dripping with sweat. "But I'd rather be sweating than shivering."

Sun staff writers Larry Carson, Gina Davis, Phillip McGowan and Josh Mitchell contributed to this article.

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