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Long Story Short: Winter tales


Bruce Adams





















Cold news

Continuing the Long Story Short tradition of reporting and commenting on the previous week’s news, we bring you this item:


It snowed.


The details:

It snowed a lot and was really cold.


The media reacted

A lot of news sources had similar stories during last week’s winter storm, though with more words—as if anyone needed to turn on their TV or read a paper to know it was extremely cold outside. Warning people to stay indoors is necessary, as are reminders of the dangers of frostbite and unnecessary driving. School and business closings are vital too. But stories showing whiteouts and windblown snow really seem redundant when your water pipes are frozen.


How the president responded

At the peak of the storm, POTUS predictably tweeted in part, “What the hell is going on with Global Waming (sic)? Please come back fast, we need you.” The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had to publicly correct him. NOAA Climate.gov tweeted, “Winter storms don’t prove that global warming isn’t happening.” They added a simple illustration involving a teapot that any child should be able to understand. The fact, of course, is that climate and weather are two different things. The President doesn’t get that. Anyway, today it’s unseasonably warm across the Midwest (including Buffalo), so the globe is wam again. 


The polar vortex

Last year LSS explained the polar vortex, and the role global warming plays in its impact on weather. It bears repeating:
The polar vortex is a wide expanse of swirling low-pressure air that circles the north pole. It’s there all year-round but grows stronger in the winter months. This is a good thing, because this low-pressure zone keeps a current of air known as the jet stream traveling around the pole, trapping arctic air where we want it—in the arctic.


It’s when this low-pressure zone weakens that it can become a problem. With an anemic polar vortex, areas of high pressure can break off fragments and send them south, bringing arctic air with them all the way to Florida. That’s what happened last week (though it was limited to the Northern US this time). When one of these vortex fragments migrate down to lower Canada and the States, we refer to it as a “polar vortex event,” but it’s the result of a weak vortex, not a strong one. 


Now, listen up, POTUS

Research finds that these polar vortex events have been occurring more frequently over the past forty years. Why? Scientists believe it’s related to the warming of the Arctic, which impacts stratospheric winds. Some scientists conjecture that long-term sea temperature changes may even play a greater role. Either way, global warming is leading to more severe winter weather in the northern hemisphere.


The takeaway:

Here’s an Idea Mr. President; why not build a two-thousand-foot tall wall along our northern border to keep migratory air from sneaking into the United States? Then you could say you stopped climate change. And make Canada pay for it. It’s their air, after all.


Winter storm claims a local icon

Last week’s snow storm took three area lives. One of those was a familiar figure in the Village of Williamsville, known only as Larry, or sometimes, “Larry the Homeless Wonder of Williamsville.” He was discovered frozen to death Thursday morning.


The details:

Larry was fondly known by many, who would spot him in the local Tim Hortons, Tops Markets, or the Walker Center. He could be easily identified by his long shock of matted red hair. Larry was quiet, even withdrawn, and few, if any, knew his background, or how he came to be homeless, despite having family in the area. He accepted some offers of assistance from community and business members, who made food and clothing available to him, but he declined others. He resisted offers to help him get off the streets, of which there were many from the public and local officials. He never panhandled. People describe him as friendly and nice.


The Buffalo News reports that his name is Lawrence Bierl, and he was sixty-nine.


The last hours

On Wednesday Larry stopped at the Reikart House, a luxury hotel on Main Street.  The hotel covered the cost of his lunch, and offered him a room for the night, but he refused. Police say it was one of at least two offers for a safe place to stay he received and refused that day. The hotel owner asked Larry if he wanted to earn some money washing dishes, but he declined that too. He also declined offers of gloves and a ride to somewhere safe.


Larry left the hotel, and, some time later, died in a bus shelter. Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority police investigated his death, and an autopsy performed after his body thawed confirmed that he died of hypothermia.


A grieving community set up a Go Fund Me page to pay for a proper memorial. The page includes an outpouring of heartfelt comments from members of the community who mourn this local fixture in the community. The heading on the Go Fund Me page reads, For Larry; long time resident of Williamsville.


Who was that plow driver?

People have a love/hate relationship with city workers charged with plowing roadways, especially during extreme conditions like we saw last week. Either the plows are not on your street, or they bury your car or plow in your driveway. In any case, they are often on the receiving end of public wrath.


Last Friday, I opened my front door to find a mound of hardened snow at the end of my driveway. This particular snow had been partly salt-melted and refrozen into rock-like slushcrete, then deposited by city plows in a yard-tall wall of impenetrable frozen boulders. My shovel wouldn’t crack the icy mass, so I tried two different ice choppers, both of which broke as I attempted to pry chunks of ice-rock off the mound. Finally, I resorted to a pick ax. Two hours later I had made headway, with a good deal more to go, when I saw a plow coming down the road.



I stood in the street ahead of my partly liberated driveway, determined to make the plow go around me. The plow-driver stopped and opened his window. He told me to move the shovel that was sticking into the street. I was not above pleading. “Please don’t plow me in again,” I begged. “Move your shovel,” the man repeated, “I’ll show you what I’m going to do.”


I complied, and the city worker lifted the massive scoop over the ice-mound and dragged it into the street, then plowed it away. He probably saved me an hour’s work, and possible a heart attack. My hands spontaneously went into the prayer position, as I mimed the words, “Thank you.”


Turns out some snowplow drivers have compassion after all. Then he plowed in my neighbor’s driveway, but I didn’t care.



And the winner is…

Ever think about headlines? Their job is to grab attention, draw readers in, while being as concise as possible. Some writers are encouraged to create their own headlines, but unless things have changed since I wrote for the Buffalo News, that paper has designated headline writers. Reporters submit their stories and wait to see how the banner reads when the paper comes out. Headline writers strive to capture the essence of a story, and they usually do a great job.


Once in a while though…

Every now and then a headline may leave readers scratching their heads.


That was the case with a Buffalo News article last week on a veteran who was injured in the war, one in a series of occasional stories the News does spotlighting former solders’ war accounts. The header read, Purple Heart winner just tried to ‘stay alive’ in Vietnam.


What’s in a headline?

“Winning” isn’t the first word that comes to mind when an explosion sends shrapnel into someone’s body. That’s what happened to the subject of the article, and it’s hard to imagine his initial thought after being blown from his armored personnel carrier by an exploding mine, and crawling injured into a bomb crater was, “Wow, I just won big.” The title unintentionally evokes visions of an award ceremony with an announcer saying, “And for having his body permeated with shards of metal, the winner of the Purple Heart is…”


Watch Peter Jackson’s stunning new World War I documentary, They Shall Not Grow Old, and you will leave the theater with no doubt that “winner” isn’t a word that should ever be associated with solders in war. Countries may declare victory. The Allied Powers won World War I and II, but the soldiers who fight are not winners. Some die, some survive, some are injured. There are no prizes. The injured are awarded the Purple Heart for their sacrifices.


Small consolation.



Freedom coming

If, like me, you wanted to attend the Albright-Knox Art gallery last March for the premiere of the documentary film, The Freedom Wall, but were not able to, you’re in luck. The film detailing the making of the tremendously popular public mural by four local artists on the corner of Michigan and East Ferry Streets, will air tomorrow, February 5, 7:30 pm, on WNED-TV.


The details:

The movie was produced by PicSix Creative, and judging by the movie trailer, it looks quite entertaining. The Freedom Wall mural depicts portraits of twenty-eight notable American civil rights leaders, past and present, local and international, on a large concrete barrier at the northern entrance to the Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor. It was painted over the summer of 2017 by artists John Baker, Julia Bottoms, Chuck Tingley, and Edreys Wajed.


There’s a background story behind the mural, which was commissioned by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery Public Art Initiative in partnership with the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority. Though the project ended up being a triumphant collaboration between the museum, four diverse artists, and Buffalo’s African American community, there were some early bumps in the road. That story is covered in a July 2017 article in Buffalo Spree.


If you can’t view it tomorrow, additional airdates are: 10:30 pm, Friday, February 8; 5 pm, Saturday, February 9; and 10 pm, Sunday, February 24.



Long Story Short is an opinion column by artist and educator Bruce Adams, a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.


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