Tuesday, June 1, 1999
In a way Toronto was a little like L.A: pretty women, nestling cell phones against their tight shoulders, zipped by us in hot cars doing eighty. Though the roads were très slick. “Not where I want to die,” I told Tom.
Which isn’t why we left. Again, this simply wasn’t the city tour.
The next day, we had lunch in far smaller Niagra-on-the-Lake. A half-dozen unrelated people had all insisted we must eat at The Prince of Wales.
Which was closed for renovations.
“Try The Obat House,” a friendly tourist rep. advised. “Same food. Cheaper.”
From the outside, that stately building looked three-hundred years old. Inside, the menu explained it had all burned in 1992.
But trying to keep things Canadian, Tom ordered Pork Pie, served cold. I took Steak and Kidney Pie, if only so I’d never have to do it again.
And I won’t. Tom either. His lunch was crusty Spam. Mine, well, kidneys. We both drank a lot of tea.
Then we walked Main Street, reading historical plaques. It turns out I knew nothing about Canada.
“They say that a lot about Americans,” Tom’s friend had told us at dinner the night before. And he was right: I can name all fifty states, but barely manage three Canadian provinces—and I can’t tell you how many there are. I certainly didn’t know Niagra-on-the-Lake had once been called Butlersville, after its founder. Or that it was later renamed Newark, for some dainty English grove pre-dating New Jersey. Or that the Yanks completely torched the city in 1812. (I did know about that war though, from its overture.) To atone, I bought some Canadian fudge.
An hour later we were at the Falls, where we almost did the dumbest thing possible without a barrel—we almost didn’t ride the boat.
The place was just so sleazy: Wax Museums. Ripley’s Believe-It-Or-Not. Robot Fortune Tellers.
And Souvenirs: Falls on postcards! Falls on mugs! Falls on T-shirts! Falls on rugs! Falls in paperweights! (Turn ‘Em Upside Down!) Falls on Napkin Rings! (Mail ‘Em Out Of Town!)
Not to mention hats, pencils, earrings, watches, hand towels, beach towels, shower curtains, place mats, and every other damn thing you could think of. (Falls on Condoms!—Imagine the Surge!) I was all Falled out and we hadn’t even seen the water.
Which we finally did, from an overlook. It reminded me of the Grand Canyon: Big. Impressive. But what ya gonna do with it?
Tom took pictures of me. I took pictures of him. Both of us shot weathered boats pushing through river foam amid hordes of attack seagulls. (Something you never see in travel brochures.) Good thing the dog was in the truck. She would’ve barked and barked.
“You really wanna do this?” I asked Tom, unencouraged.
“I don’t know. What do you want?”
Marty At The Beach.
WHAT!! WERE WE CRAZY?!? OF COURSE, WE WERE GONNA DO THIS!!!
We quickly paid our seven bucks each, getting throw-away plastic slickers in exchange. (Blue, see-through, dry-cleaner’s bags; in the movie, at least Marilyn Monroe got homey yellow oilcloth.) On kids, these raintogs reached their feet. Mine—in Xtra Large—was a bolero.
To get to the boats—there’s a bunch of ’em—you go down steps. Then elevators. Then ramps. Finally, you’re at the water, but you have to climb back up—to the crowded top deck. And you gotta ride the open deck. What’s the point of crouching behind windows?
Just like you gotta take pictures. Though you know you’re too close, and it’s too wet, and the birds are tryin’ to eat your neighbor’s head. Even that’s not worth wasting film on, as it probably happens a thousand times a day.
You see the American Falls first. And they’re a mess: Caved in. Geriatric. With—oh, yeah —a couple billion tons of water. Engineers and international philosophers have debated rebuilding these ruins—for morale’s sake: America’s gotta be best. But erosion just chews the river bed. It’s lost something like seven miles in 12,000 years (well, it’s relative).
But repairs wouldn’t hold. Plus, they’d be expensive: hard to justify to taxpayers. Besides, the whole point of the falls is they’re natural. Who wants TheWonderful World Of Water?
The Canadian Falls are better.Everything You Ever Wanted In A Falls, Only Wetter. Everyone got soaked. I got especially drenched, in my mini-Maxipad. Children shrieked as each wave swamped them, and their parents screamed along. I couldn’t stop grinning.
“Wanna go again?” I asked Tom, even before our boat headed back. Hell, we’d already drowned. But some things you can overdo.
When we reached the truck, the dog seemed over-excited to see us—maybe always fearing this time they’re not coming back. We bribed her with puppy snacks, then bought several dozen postcards to torment friends—absolutely mandatory. At the border, American Customs idly waved us through. They really don’t care about Canada. Still, I don’t know why our northern neighbors keep whining: they have the good Falls and the best Rockies.
By twilight, we were edging Lake Ontario, on one of the most relaxing drives of the trip. Green pastures. Blossoming trees. People out strolling.
“What a great place to live,” Tom announced. Some of the locals even waved at him. I only laughed.
“Are you kidding? Winters are brutal.” He’d never heard of the lake effect. “There’s so much snow,” I explained, “they have to call in the National Guard.”
He thought for a moment. “I’ll just win the lottery,” he replied. “Go south at Christmas.”