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Long Story Short: A look on the bright side


As spring progresses, gardeners have something enjoyable to do.



Finding the silver lining

Was I deceived or did a sable cloud turn forth her silver lining on the night?
—John Milton, 1634

There’s no doubt the social and economic impact of COVID-19 has been severe. While relatively few in Western New York have tested positive to date, everyone here is experiencing the collateral effects of the virus, especially after New York was put on “pause” by Governor Cuomo last week. Some workers are taking leave from their jobs; others work from home, but many are experiencing the economic and emotional strain of unemployment. We are all largely sequestered, with restaurants, bars, museums, music venues, theaters, and many stores and services of all kinds closed. Parks are off limits to groups, and business districts have gone dark. However bleak the situation, some locals are finding that having extra time on their hands presents unexpected opportunities.



Several residents are discovering that compulsory confinement leads to spring-cleaning. “My OCD is in overdrive,” says Angie Zimmerman, whose eclectically decorated home is featured in Spree, March issue, “The benefits of cleaning and organizing are numerous. It relaxes me and makes for a very happy partner.” Zimmerman posted images of several completed projects on Facebook to inspire others, “or maybe I’m just showing off,” she says.


Kristin Smith is on extended maternity leave with her and her husband’s new baby. For Smith, the bright side of the virus is that, now, her husband is home too, with time to get some overdue projects accomplished around the house. Kaelei Hooper says being home forced her to clean her condo, but she’s also learning to crochet. Jennifer Ryan and her partner reorganized their home studios/workshops, then planted seeds in anticipation of gardening later in the spring. Ryan also mentions the quality time she and her partner have enjoyed together, which brings us to…


Connecting with family and friends

Laura Silverman loves spending the weekdays with her child. During the week, while she works from home, her son sits next to her doing schoolwork. She doesn’t miss rushing him out the door in the morning, then fighting over homework at the end of the day when they’re “both exhausted and grumpy.” Evenings were “always rush, rush, rush,” she says. Silverman believes years from now, she’ll look back at these “long, leisurely co-working days” fondly.


“Isolation has put my more secluded friends front of mind,” says Lynn King, “I’ve been reaching out to them and it’s been wonderful.” King says that “the incessant posts about coronavirus and the quarantine” made her realize the importance of quality conversations. She posted a simple question in a group she belongs to: “What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were younger.” The response has “taken her breath away,” she says. “It’s like reading little slices of American life, and every single one of the hundreds of comments have been politely and respectfully received.” she adds, “no fights, no political nastiness.” King is engaged in several other projects during her sequestered time at home, as she enjoys more time with her kids: finishing a ceiling mural and creating a Facebook fun group with daily challenges and resources for children home from school.


Quality family time is on Stephanie Argentine’s mind too. He family has been playing board games, and, she notes, “Everyone seemed to want to clean their space, wherever they will be working for the next bit of time.” She is also shopping more at the Lexington Coop, something her family always wanted to do. There’s another unexpected benefit to being home more, says Argentine, “We’re eating more of our dinner leftovers for lunch, since we’re home during the day, so we’re wasting less.”


Pat Donovan has plans for a beer night with her Lockport son, and a “wine in the park evening” with two friends at Chestnut Ridge. She hastens to add that they will remain six feet apart in both cases.


“People are more available by phone and online and looking for entertainment in a way similar to my own speed, vs. being off working or traveling or attending to things outside the house where we have to play tag,” says Ellen Drexler, who sums it up in the most ironic way, “More connectivity seems to be a byproduct of the isolation.”


Psychological perks

Many people are experiencing intense stress during the shutdown, but for some, there have been unexpected emotional benefits. Amanda Kay lost her job almost a year ago and hasn’t found work since. She’s felt isolated, and in poor mental health, questioning her self-worth. Seeing the impact of the virus on others has made her feel less alone. Staying home has motivated her to channel her anxiety in positive ways, focusing on her family.


Kathy Guest Shadrack has discovered that when you’re self-isolated, “life gets boiled down to the essence.” With Zen-like consciousness, she is learning what doesn’t matter. “It's like being in a hot air balloon ditching ballast,” she muses. “Not allowed to shop? Don't need to shop. Not allowed to go out for a fish fry?  Don't need a fish fry. Shadrack says she is worrying less, not more, and she appreciates not having to be places at specific times. Nobody expects anything, and I truly believe this is another defining moment in civilization.”


Helping others

Ella Bostwick is a healthcare worker who cares for seniors with dementia in their homes. She says that she and a client recently watched Elvis - Aloha from Hawaii, a concert on DVR. “My client, is an eighty-six-year-old woman, and she absolutely loved it,” she says, “We sang along and swooned over the King!” It was a better day for her client and herself, says Bostwick.


Jessica Döktor can work from home, but her husband is laid off. The silver lining is that he is now caring for his eighty-eight-year-old mother, who is a high functioning stroke patient. “She came home three weeks ago,” says Döktor, adding that it feels like her family is living in simpler times, without “a ton of meetings or obligations.”  


“I went to visit my dad in Florida before this all started,” says one woman who requests anonymity, “and immediately noticed something was off.” Her dad was walking “funny,” had slurred speech, and was vomiting daily. She learned that he has a serious drinking problem and had suffered a stroke. Doctors said unless he stopped drinking, he would be dead within a month. “We flew dad home and he started a detox program at ECMC, then the fears about the virus hit.” Her father was released, but she worried that he would relapse. “I was due to go back to work, but the announcement came that we could work remotely,” she says, “so I’ve been able to be home with him full time.” Under her watchful eye, her father reached two weeks sober this past Friday. “He has a long road ahead,” she adds, “but oddly enough, this has made his sobriety a real possibility,”


Lifestyle changes

Some people stress-eat. But while conserving resources in anticipation of shortages, Wendy Maloney discovered that she doesn’t need as much food as she was consuming in recent years. “I’ve lost six pounds in the last ten days,” she happily reports. And she’s developed a keener awareness of waste: paper towels have given way to cloth, she washes and reuses Ziplock bags, and takes a more mindful approach to waste in general. Deep breathing, walks outdoors, and self-limiting TV are all part of her new lifestyle.


And more

Artist Fotini Galanas has used this time to work on a mural for the Oishei Children’s Hospital. Robert Kinkaid is one of several who say they have more time to cook at home. And Don Brown is among those who are binge-watching TV shows he couldn’t get to previously. “Hunted: Dangerous Games, on Spectrum on Demand,” he says, “Surprisingly good!”


And this:

Know anyone who doesn’t fully grasp the intricacies of hand-washing? Or maybe you’re just looking for a bit of lightness amidst all the doom and gloom. Iranian artist Danial Kheirkhah channels the old-time silent movie comics to instruct people on the how-to of soap and water hygiene. It seems to only be on Facebook: Facebook.com/watch/?v=589408735120675



Car culture: the rolling diner

This is the first in a series of stories chronicling the idiosyncrasies of automobiles and motoring.


Driving candy

When I was young, my father had a specific kind of peppermint candy that he kept in a bag on the front bench seat of the family car between him and mom. Everyone else in the family understood that this was only for the driver. It wasn’t intended for oral gratification; it was driving-candy, possessing the power to keep the car-pilot alert and focused on the job. We were not allowed to partake of the sacred sweet, but seeing it consumed by my father imprinted on me the notion that eating and driving went together.  



There are two things you won’t find in today’s cars, though they were standard equipment in my father’s candy-munching days. Ash trays and cigarette lighters have gone the way of the Dodo. For those too young to recall, ash receptacles once conveniently slid out from car dashboards, and what we know today as a 12v accessary socket, was once one-half of a cigarette lighter. The other half was a plug containing a bi-metallic coil. When you pushed it in, the coil became red hot, popping like a toaster when it was ready to light a cigarette.  


Let’s review what went into this cigarette-lighting act. After obtaining a smoke, the driver pushed the lighter in, removing it when it popped, pressed it against the cigarette while puffing, then replaced it in the socket. Drivers subsequently tapped ashes into the tray as they smoked with their “free hand,” which also controlled the radio, opened and closed windows, and (in my father’s case) unwrapped driver-candy. All this was routine.


Cigarette lighters and ashtrays disappeared from vehicles in the 1990s, victims of anti-smoking campaigns.


The cup holder

Cup holders as we know them today, arrived in 1983, along with the rise of drive-thru fast food restaurants, though various forms of snack trays and coasters existed in cars since the Model T. As streets and transmissions became smoother, drivers grew more comfortable drinking beverages while on the road. European cars, particularly German makes, didn’t have cup holders for many years; some still don’t. Europeans can’t understand why Americans would want to drink in their cars, when there are perfectly good cafés for that purpose.


According to the Washington Post, There are two principal theories explaining the popularity of cup holders: “home stuff” and “time crush.” In simple terms, the first supposes that cars are like second homes; we want them to have all the creature comforts. The latter imagines that Americans are always in a rush, not allowing time for proper nourishment.


My case

I’m going with the latter. In recent years, I consume on average about seven meals a week while driving. It seems to me a waste of perfectly good time to simply drive, listen to the radio, make hand-free calls, and receive incoming audio texts, while I could also be pounding down a meal. I’ve mastered the art of in-car dining, which I should point out, uses the same free hand that smoking, tuning the radio, or unwrapping driving-candy does. Things I’ve eaten on the road include hamburgers and fries, calzones, burritos, fried fish, empanadas, sandwiches, chicken wings, doughnuts, assorted baked goods, and just about anything that doesn’t drip while being eaten (a rule I sometimes suspend).  Only on occasion, when forced to stop quickly, does the food end up on the floor.


The bad and the worse

Before you judge, consider this: according to an ExxonMobil study, eighty-three percent of drivers drink in the car, and seventy percent eat while driving. Studies also show that distractions cause most accidents, though which distractions and to what degree is not clear.  Eating while driving is a distraction of course, but on a personal note, I haven’t had an accident where I was at fault for over forty-two years, and that was from falling asleep in crawling traffic after working the night shift. Talk about rude awakenings.  


A study done by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration listed the top ten most dangerous foods to consume while driving. I have no idea how it arrived at this list, since I can’t find the study, only references to it, though I have tried most of the ten, barbeque remaining untested.


Eating while driving has, however, led to some poor nutritional habits. Most foods suitable for automobile scarfing are not healthy. I eat few vegetables while motoring, for instance, except as pizza toppings.


The law

There are no laws in the US prohibiting motor-dining, though all states have statutes against reckless or distracted driving, which could include eating, grooming, reading, and even smoking when operating a vehicle. California calls it “Wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.” And of course, if you are non-white, you may get extra harassment for eating while driving. So never reach for your burrito while pulled over.  


Should you eat and drive? Statistics say most people do. As for myself, when not eating while driving, I might be eating while writing. Like the banana/strawberry yogurt smoothie I just finished.  


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


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