A first impression of Niagara Falls

IT HAS been seven years since I first saw Niagara Falls. It was basically my high school senior trip although I did not make the trip with anyone from my high school nor did I think of it as such at the time.

The day that began the journey started off normally. I loathingly cut the grass, which was most likely way too long, and then my friend Matt came over to jam. However, for reasons known to Fate alone, jamming did not really go so well: the timing was off, the guitars refused to stay in tune, a string was broken. In short, the metal gods were against us on this late-July afternoon.

We lamented the broken E-string on my guitar as the fresh, gray-blue cigarette smoke hazed the room. Matt started talking about a show he had seen on The Discovery Channel earlier that day when I had been slaving through yard work. It was a special about Niagara Falls – its history before and after it became an international park. Eventually, the conversation turned to us wanting to go to Niagara Falls sometime, since neither of us had ever gone there.

Three words were then spoken by my friend that changed the course of the next few days: “What about now?”

My innate reaction was to laugh at the notion. However, even as I laughed, the ridiculous idea turned to a possibility in my mind. The conversation progressed, MapQuest was accessed (as this was well before everyone had a GPS on their cell phones), and the decision was made to drive to Niagara Falls. We called up our drummer, Mike, who had just gotten off of work and asked him if he was up for something a little bit different than jamming. He agreed, and thus, the journey began.

After Mike made it to my house, we set on our way in Matt’s half-totaled Honda Accord. At about 8:30 p.m., we made a brief pit stop for provisions, and within 15 minutes, we were cruising east on the highway with Ensiferum blaring through the speakers. Nothing is better highway music than Finnish metal.

At about 3 a.m., we were getting pretty hungry. Doritos and Skittles can only take you so far. Luckily, we spotted the yellow glow of a towering sign for the nearest Denny’s, which was located in a fancy rest stop on the highway.

Upon entering the rest stop, we approached a tourist kiosk and asked the clerk what state we were in, as we weren’t sure if we had crossed from Pennsylvania into New York. The clerk paused momentarily, told us to hold on with a hand gesture, and went to ask her manager before returning and telling us that we had indeed crossed into New York. Admittedly, the girl had a bit of an accent; however, we thought the question should have been a pretty easy one for anyone qualified to work in a tourism kiosk.

We dined at Denny’s not-so-eloquently. In retrospect, I’m sure we were loud and obnoxious at times, but it was late, hardly anyone else was present, and we were having a good time. I had buffalo chicken tenders. I remember that they tasted so good at the time, and I wondered what the difference was between New York tenders and those of the valley.

Within a half hour of getting back on the highway, we were only a few miles outside of Buffalo. We started discussing what we were going to do for the night, knowing that the park would not be admitting anyone at that hour. A hotel was out of the question; none of us had that kind of cash or plastic handy. We eventually settled for just pulling over on the side of the highway outside the city and trying to get a few hours of rest before making our way to Niagara Falls in the morning.

We all slept miserably. It was hot and cramped and, of course, there was always the threat of a psychotic, homeless highway straggler making his way to the car and killing us in our sleep. We facetiously discussed as much while trying to fall into our respective slumbers.

The morning was agony. We had all developed minor cases of claustrophobia during the night, and, thus, had to get out of the small Honda and stretch our limbs. The air was thick with humidity … and other things. The highway runs parallel, for the most part, with the shore of Lake Erie, and the summer mosquitoes that nest along the lake’s shore were as thick as plague locusts. All of us had a healthy breakfast of at least three mosquitoes before we gathered enough sense to return to the safety of the Honda.

wasn’t sure if it was the mosquitoes or the heat, but I was not feeling very well at that particular point of the trip. We trudged on our way nevertheless. It was nearing 9 a.m.when, with the help of road signs (as our MapQuest directions had left us forsaken in the suburbs and ghettos of Buffalo), we finally made it to Niagara Falls.

My ill-feeling had dramatically worsened by this point, and my first action upon entering this beautiful, world-renowned international park was to vomit up chunks of the Denny’s buffalo chicken tenders upon the base of the nearest tree. I again wondered what the difference was between New York tenders and those of the valley. There are few worse things than chunks of spicy breaded-chicken coming out of one’s mouth and nose. Of course, Matt got quite a few pictures of this; I still have not seen them, although a part of me wishes that I one day will.

We spent the entire day in awe as we explored everything the park had to offer, not deciding to leave until sometime in the early evening. The ride home was quiet, for the most part. We were all very tired, partially sunburned, and definitely in need of a shower. The silence was merely a part of our individual reflections on the random and amazing experience each of us had just shared.

To this day, I have not returned to Niagara Falls. Every time I hear any mention of the place, I always have to stifle laughter from some random memory that pops up involving those couple days of my life. Since then, I have done my best to just take life a day at a time and to live for myself and on my own terms (spontaneously, whenever possible). After all, you have but one life to live.

Scott can be reached at jscott@timesleaderonline.com.