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Out in the Long Island heat and working up a sweat

U.S. Postal Service worker Moraima Lopez pauses to

U.S. Postal Service worker Moraima Lopez pauses to cool off while delivering mail Friday in Huntington Station. Photo Credit: Newsday/Craig Schneider

Long Islanders working in Friday's sweltering heat and humidity used a variety of coping strategies: They gulped water, sought out shade and, whenever possible, escaped into air conditioning.

Looking ahead to Saturday, a day expected to have the breath of a furnace, they planned even more extreme measures.

Al Wagner has learned to cope from working 30 years in his auto repair garage in Huntington. Hunched over a dark 2010 Honda CR-V on Friday, Wagner had to speak above the sound of five big fans that he's collected over the years.

"Without fans, you die," said Wagner, 58, of Holbrook, who co-owns OK Petroleum on Jericho Turnpike. 

Wagner figured he'd go through four 30-ounce bottles of cold water Friday. He planned to close up early. Saturday will be a half-day, in keeping with his philosophy on extra-hot days.

"Get home to air conditioning," he said. "Don't deal with it."

There's a toughness to these workers, who've learned the sun can be a harsh work companion. 

Carmine Demeri, a veteran Babylon public works employee, summed up the quality that workers need most.

"Durability," he said, as he painted white lines on streets. "I'm 63; I've been doing this for 40 years. You have to be used to it."

Ruddy-faced, Demeri wasn't even wearing a hat as he dipped his long roller into the bucket of paint at a stop sign on Angelica Street in Deer Park.

It was 10:30 a.m. Friday and he had been working since 8. The humidity thickened the warm air, making him thankful he'd quit smoking 10 years ago.

Looking up at the overcast sky, he knew it was just a matter of time before the sun burned through.

"Eventually the sun's going to pop," he said. He keeps water, fruit and Gatorade in his truck. "You need electrolytes."

Riding his lawn mower around Wantagh Park, Nassau County worker Brian Hood said he wasn't about to wilt in the hot conditions.

At the same time, he said he hoped his lawn-cutting led him “under trees and down by the water.” 

LIRR workers will sweat through the insufferable weekend weather as they demolish the Urban Avenue grade crossing in Westbury — one of eight street-level crossings being eliminated as part of the Third Track project. Riders, though, may have a tougher time, as no weekend train service will be available between Hicksville and Mineola and schedules will be affected on all other LIRR branches.

Postal workers, for their part, have it rough on oven-hot days as they adhere to their profession's motto of delivering mail in all sorts of weather.

Many of their delivery trucks have no air conditioning, so whatever the temperature is outside, it feels even hotter in the vehicles, they say. Delivering mail to air-conditioned businesses offers them a cool, though fleeting, respite.

As she delivered mail along the streets of Huntington Station, Moraima Lopez had a small fan on the dash of her truck, along with a towel and bottle of blue Powerade. 

By noon, the sun had broken through the clouds and was beating down hard. Lopez, 50, wore sunglasses and a bandanna over her head. 

"I try to keep my mind positive all the time," she said.

At the sprawling, virtually shadeless cemeteries along Pinelawn Road and Wellwood Avenue, workers wore sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats with towels draped over their necks. They drank lots of water as they trimmed the bushes on graves in Beth Moses Cemetery.

"It's hard, very hard," said Waldy Santos, 28, holding his electric trimmer.

The secret to working in hot weather, he said, can be summed up in two words.

"Stay strong."

With Robert Brodsky and Obiageli S. Chukwuma

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