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People acting on their longing for warmer weather

| Friday, March 1, 2013, 8:11 p.m.

Wanna get away?

Brett McIvey does.

The Aspinwall man clinches his crossed arms tightly, trying to shrug off a nasty mix of misty rain and sub-Arctic wind gusts while waiting Downtown for the 91A bus home.

With each flurry that hit his face, he dreams of being somewhere — anywhere — warm.

All of McIvey's favorite things about spring, from its flip-flops and backyard barbecues to Opening Day baseball, just can't seem to get here fast enough.

“Man, I need to get out of here,” says the 41-year-old software developer. “If I could go to Hawaii tomorrow, I would. But I've got bills.”

This is that weird time of year in Pittsburgh.

Old Man Winter still has a tight, chilly grip on the area. But, if you're to believe Punxsutawney Phil's prediction, warm weather is on the horizon.

It's when people can't help but jones about being somewhere exotic and warm, when frigid fantasizers' dreams of sand, sun and all things tropical kick into a higher gear.

And some people are beginning to act on their impulses.

The Phipps Conservatory in Oakland and the National Aviary on the North Side each have indoor exhibits featuring lush botanical gardens and greenspaces. Both report seasonal spikes in traffic, some of it coming from those needing a sunny pick-me-up. The annual Spring Flower Show at Phipps kicks off next weekend.

Retailers also are hip to the trend. Already many, including Target, Macy's and Old Navy, have been stocking their shelves with shorts, swimsuits and tank tops, trying to tempt early-acting sun worshippers.

And eateries that specialize in warm-weather comfort food, like those specializing in Latin and Southeast Asian cuisine, also get an uptick in business during this time.

Samuel Cantucci does his part, catching a roasted chicken lunch at Inca Peruvian Restaurant, Downtown.

“I can't go to Machu Picchu today, but I can eat like I'm there,” says Cantucci, 29, of Garfield.

Going to an exotic restaurant or buying music from some tropical tourist trap isn't settling or a sign of failure, says Paul J. Friday, chief of clinical psychology at UPMC Shadyside.

It's normal. In fact, it's “absolutely healthy and absolutely necessary,” Friday says.

“What sets us apart from the animals ... our concept of the past, the present and the future. We have the ability to project that something better is coming, that there's hope,” he says. “We stay hopeful.”

The trick, Friday says, is to not be impulsive. Booking a ticket to Tahiti for a week without telling your boss and no cash in your bank account might not be wise.

“Fantasies are fun, as long as you realize they're fantasies,” Friday says. “You have to keep perspective.”

If there's a time when people give in to their warm-weather fantasies, this is it.

The sweet spot between Presidents Day and the first day of spring often is where page views on travel sites and calls to local travel agencies begin to creep up, according to PhoCus Wright, a Sherman, Conn., travel-research firm.

“There's often a mini-peak ... during February and into March,” says Cathy Schetzina, director of communications and senior analyst for PhoCus Wright. “Travelers are seeking escape in the winter months and, for some, taking or simply planning a vacation is just what they need to carry them through spring.”

Chris Ramirez is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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