Friday, June 17, 2005

Buffalo's Summer Meltdown

No, no. I'm not talking about the tax problem. Or the local government problem. Or the budget deficit problem. Anyway those things aren't PROBLEMS. They are just pervasive "issues" kind of like normal back strain, only recently Buffalo and Western New York have been laid out on the couch, not quite sure who is going to fetch nourishment from the fridge. We'll get through this too, maybe with some help if they send some friendly governmental chiropractors from Albany to work us over. No, the meltdown was weather-related. An honest-to-goodness heat wave was generated by Mother Nature, and this after two consecutive summers that resembled Portland on a dreary day. Last week's mid-June weather gave WNY a 5-day period in which the average temperature was 86.5 degrees, with a high of 90, and I'm sure it felt a whole lot hotter than that. Let's face it, there are many summers in which it NEVER reaches that magic 90 degree mark in Buffalo. (And technically it isn't even "summer" yet.) So I'm sure the weather anomaly took Western New Yorkers by surprise. When I was growing up in Buffalo, we awaited heat. Longed for it. Begged for it. Prayed for it. Celebrated it if it arrived, even if for a few hours. The hotter the better. We would wish it would someday top 100 degrees, just to know what that felt like without sticking your face in an oven. (Now that I am in Florida I know what 100 feels like. It's like sticking your face in an oven.) As kids we even had these weird outfits called "sunsuits." These were for girls, not boys. They sort of resembled a bathing suit, but were puffier and had elastic at the legs and oftentimes a tie at the neck. Which you had to be careful not to let boys untie. The purpose, I think, was to develop tan lines without running around in your bathing suit all day. Because if you stayed in your bathing suit too long, mom was sure to snap, "I hope you're not going to RUN AROUND in that bathing suit all day." Like it was the decadent equivalent of Hugh Hefner's bathrobe, or something, with the implication that we would never clean our rooms or set the table ever again. The thing about Buffalo is that its summer weather is pretty fantastic. It doesn't often get hot enough to make you uncomfortable. So no one ever had air conditioning, and heat waves prompted emergency measures. My parents are extremely fond of a geothermal concept called The Crossbreeze. This involves opening every window in the house until you get an effect where the curtains will start waving in the breeze. This means you have generated the coveted "Crossbreeze." A Crossbreeze is a full substitute for air conditioning. You just sit there letting the hot, humid air blow over you, and you will never need emergency services to cart you off for heat stroke. I have no idea if crossbreeze is a Western New York term, a South Buffalo one, or something peculiar to my parents. Probably I should look it up in the dictionary and see if it's even a word. I have caught my parents making a few up. My parents never had a car with air conditioning until they bought a used one that was my uncle's when I was well into my highschool years. Even though the car was older and would stall out if it went through puddles, it was like owning a luxury vehicle! It felt like we were Mr. and Mrs. Howell only they had six kids. I myself never owned a car with air conditioning until I moved to Florida. In fact I had to give up my beloved Saturn for that very reason. It seems odd to me now, but the schools weren't air conditioned either. (I'm not sure if they are now.) So when we'd get some hotter days in May or June, the heavy windows would be opened. For some reason, the windows did NOT have screens. So this usually resulted in students taking surreptitious looks at a winged, stinging insect until it became obvious to the teacher that the six-legged thing was more interesting than the lecture on Iroquois Indians. At which point a shooing or exterminating operation was mounted. I rarely used sunscreen when I lived in Buffalo. Figure, at THAT distance from the sun, would it even make a difference? Note: Buffalo is further south than the French Riviera. So perhaps sunscreen is not a bad idea after all. If we could fix up the waterfront a little, we could maybe capitalize on this Riviera thing. Could we not mount a film festival? In conjunction with some fabulous local foods and a trip to one of the world's natural wonders? Just asking! Another thing I remember about the occasional Buffalo heat wave is melting into the lawn furniture. Whether you had the plastic furniture or the vinyl kind, you inevitably became one with the chair. So when you got up you'd sort of peel off like a bandage from a knee, with an unsticking noise, and then you'd have the design of the chair tattooed onto your body. In Buffalo, hot temps = Body Art! But this is my advice for Buffalonians. Don't be afraid to complain about the heat! One of the joys of extreme weather is experiencing it, analyzing it, putting your own spin on it, and kvetching about it. I know for a fact that many Western New Yorkers are afraid to do this because they'll jinx it! They fear it will make the hot weather go away and never come back. Well this is a ridiculous fear. Think about it. We've been complaining about high taxes for years. Did all that moaning ever make THOSE go away? NO! They're still there. And getting higher. So maybe if we feel uninhibited enough to complain about the rare heat wave, heck, we may get more of THOSE too! Let's try it. There is absolutely nothing to lose. Part of the Hot Weather Package is the license to complain about it. So if you're not utilizing the full package, you have only yourself to blame. I should note, though, that the high yesterday in Buffalo was, ahem, 65 degrees. And my mother wasn't quite done enjoying her Cross Breeze!

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