The other day Rain declared a Family Outing Day, and gave me carte blanche to drag everybody (including her) somewhere, anywhere away from the Home Cave... Providing it wasn't more than 3 hours away from the house. Seems that she thought that she had to set a distance limit, mostly because she doesn't have a passport. (Honey, I don't know how we got to Ireland by car...) But where I really wanted to go was Niagara Falls, but that was 3 1/2 hours away. A mere 1/2 hour past the deadline (you know, that line that you cross and then you're dead?). Proving Dude isn't the only charmer in the family I alternately charmed and made sad, puppy eyes at Raine, wearing down her resistance (and good sense) until she agreed to a trip to the largest falls (by volume) in the world. Dude was stoked. Not because he had any clue where we were going, but because he knows that when Raine comes along on an outing, there will be a minimum amount of walking in the woods. Or mostly none.
So I crammed them (quickly) into the car and immediately headed north. Dude had his 3DS to keep him amused, and Raine had.... well... me, I guess. I can be entertaining enough, I suppose, but I was glad we had a working radio in the car as back up. (I'm sure she was too) Also, to prove I'm not exactly a novice in these situations, I also had an MP3 player to whip out, like a magician when Dave started complaining that his batteries were getting low. Which he did just after we crossed the NY state line. I also had one more Dude-trick up my sleeve. I am a self-admitted compulsive photographer. Not the really annoying kind that drags out tons of pictures of blurry traffic scenes through car windows, strange half focused objects in the foreground of family picnics, or endless boring pictures of even more boring family events. I mean, I still take those kind of pictures... I just don't show them to everybody. Just the people unable to move fast enough to get away.
Anyway, I brought along enough cameras for everybody. I think I may have even had one left over. I started passing them out, I handed Dude my very first digital camera, a Kodak Easyshare, as we were going through Buffalo . Dave, now in electronic heaven (3DS, MP3, and camera) started randomly saying 'gotcha!' from the backseat, accompanied by the subtle click of the camera. Then followed by, 'Yep, that's the shot. Gotta get this one to the Bugle before noon!' I told him they would hold the presses until we got home.
After a no doubt fascinating rendition of how I'd lost Pat Travers and his entire band in a snowstorm at the I-90/190 interchange in Buffalo during my roadie days, we rolled through Buffalo and into the town of Niagara NY. Naturally, since I normally count on my built-in homing instinct, we hadn't done any research at all about the falls, the town, the park, or even Canada for that matter. I mean, we had some vague notion that our Neighbors to the North had some pesky 'rules' about entering their hockey-driven domain, but we had no real notion of what they were. Like true old folks we knew perfectly the rules of 2 decades before, but were pretty fuzzy on the current version. So we cleverly avoided needing this knowledge by planning on staying on the Apple-pie side of the border. As for the rest, we decided (it was sort of a decision anyway) to 'wing-it'.
For those of you who don't know, the Interior Department has a slightly psychotic attitude about our National Treasures. I'm not talking about clear-cut logging or strip mining in National Forests (both of which are allowed with permit). I mean their treatment of the cattle... uh tourists that visit our national places by the millions every year. When you first near any National Park you're bombarded at random intervals by brown signs telling you how to get to everywhere. Which is cool, but they're placed so randomly and so far apart that you never know whether or not you're lost, it also presupposes that you know where you're going in the first place. So the first thing is, you need to know where to go (ie: which signs to follow) to get to the place that has the maps... you know, the things that tell you were everything is... including the place where the maps are (catch-22 anyone?). State Parks Departments all over the country make wonderful, concise and legible maps. Our federal government had theirs done by the same company that does Disney's. They make it look like you've stumbled into a hitherto unknown Theme Park called Waterfall Pirate Park instead of an area including an awesome work of nature. Oh, and good luck getting any information out of the 'Information' booth people. If they have any information short of where you can spend your money, they're doing a good job of hiding it.
But even without 'Information' an open spigot like the Falls is kinda hard to miss, even with a Disney-map for guidance. We made our way to the American Falls, following the dull roar of the humongous thing. We stepped out onto a walkway, and there it was; a 6 foot thick, 1000 foot wide, 180 feet plus high, several tens of thousands of gallons a second, largest amount of falling water I'd ever seen in my life. And I was seeing less than half of it. I was awestruck. I was mesmerized. I didn't even start taking pictures for almost 5 minutes, and for me, that's a record. For several long moments I merely stood, open-mouthed and stared at this incredible remainder of the last ice age. I was absolutely entranced by the power and majesty of this Natural Wonder. Dude? Not so much.
Initially, he nearly refused to get anywhere near the railing. Not because he was scared, necessarily, but mostly because he wanted to go back to the car/home/games, and thought that once we were through with this 'walk' he could do that very thing, and these 'waterfall' interruptions were just getting in the way. After I finally got him over to the railing he almost looked impressed for about 2 whole seconds, then he started hamming it up, leaning over the railing above the 180 foot drop, saying, 'I could fall.'
Elevators are Dave's thing, even more than ketchup, mac and cheese and ranch dressing combined.(Which just sounds... disgusting) And since Niagara is the template from which Branson , Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, et.al. were poured there were plenty of nice, shiny, nearly brand new, but tatty places to spend your children's inheritance on by buying useless crap that'll end up in the trash within hours of your getting home. But, occasionally, there is something fairly cool, but incredibly eyesore-ish and Niagara is no exception. They call it the 'Observation Tower', although it's really a big deck with a tower stuck through the end of it. But Dude could have cared less. Because what it had, was an elevator. Right outside, behind wrought iron fences about 8 feet high, but there it was, the handicapped access elevator for the Observation Tower. Right out there were he could see it. Suddenly the Falls meant nothing more than water spilling over a table edge. All he wanted in the world was to go to that elevator. By
Somehow I persuaded Dude to, if not ignore the elevator, at least entertain the possibility that there were other things to look at in Niagara and the bare chance that there might be other elevators somewhere out in the vastness of the universe. Yeah... I don't know how I did it either. But I eventually managed to get him back to the railing and take some pictures. He was so distracted by the elevator-interruptus (I'm just making up words right and left) that he didn't even ham it up for the camera. After a couple of solo-shots and one or two with Raine I started to put my camera away when I heard a brisk voice saying, 'All right, parents, we're done here. Nothing more to do. Time to be moving on.' Raine and I came to a full stop. Looked at each other, and then at my son who was briskly trying to herd us on our way. 'Let's go, let's go. Nothing to see here.' he said briskly, trying to lead us off, he knew not where. Nor did he care, as long as we were moving. I mean, here we were at one of the Wonders of Nature, a moving Glory of the Natural World, and something I've been wanting to see most of my natural life. And we were being hurried along by an autistic version of a Monty Python bobby. I was seriously waiting for him to say, 'All right, all right. What's all 'is then?'. But if he called me 'Squire' I was going to dunk him in the river. 186 feet below.
So a strange sort of tug-of-war ensued. Raine (who hadn't been to the Falls in years) and I (who'd never been) wanted a more leisurely tourist-ish experience; Wandering through the grounds, checking a couple of souvenir shops and semi-authentic Native American (Canadian) jewelry stands that dotted the park. I mean, we weren't going to buy any of that crap. Our grandchildren already aren't getting any inheritance. We just wanted to see, you know... stuff. Dave, who's the least 'stuff' oriented guy I know, just wanted to get the whole damn thing over with. He would be striding purposely along ahead of the ambling adults, 'encouraging' us to 'move along' and no matter how vigorously I yanked the (metaphorical) leash, he was soon off again. Oh he'd stick around us old fogies for a bit... To say things like, 'We need to get to the Mall/Airport/Pittsburgh to the elevators!' or 'Yep! It's certainly time we were going.' Or even 'I'm sorry, I have to work in the morning, so I must be going.' (I hadn't heard that he'd actually become employed, but if true, I was going to start charging him rent.) Every time I'd pause to take a picture he'd say, 'Yep! that's the shot. We have to get it back to the Bugle!' He even once, in a fit of hurry-it-up desperation said, 'Oh my! It's 8 o'clock, time for bed!' It was 2:00 on a weekend afternoon, about 9 hours before he actually went to bed. The whole time he's dragging us along the path, both metaphorically and physically. Trying, I imagined, to get us out as quickly as possible to increase his chances of being near elevators he can actually use.
After 3 years (in Dude's mind, 20 minutes to the rest of us) we made it to the Canadian Falls. Dave was not only completely unimpressed, he was already calculating our rout back to the car, In the midst of all of that crowd, as happy as people watching a 6 foot thick 1000+ foot wide column of wintry green water fall over a 180 foot wall bashing the hell out of the rocks below can be. Well, except the guy with 7 kids (I hope it was a tour group) and a really really bitchy woman who demanded that he do everything, while continually insisting that he did everything wrong, Dude was the unhappiest one there. I mean, the Korean newlyweds were paying more attention to the Falls than he was! And they were almost totally involved with the camera guy, the mother(s)-in-law and each other.(Raine was happy, she was waiting on top the hill for us to do the sight seeing thing and walk back up to her).
On the way back up the hill to where Raine was waiting he was bounding ahead like some sort of bizarre gazelle/mountain goat genetic mutation, saying, 'We have to get to Pittsburgh, to get the elevators!' Wishing I'd actually purchased the tow harness from that horse-drawn logging guy, I followed my son (at ever increasing distances) back over the bridge, Goat Island, another bridge, and across the park in something close to record time. Then I got to feel like Stretch Armstrong (showing my age) with Dave in front straining to get back to the car and Raine behind trying to look at 'one more thing' at the Native American jewelry tables. Somehow I got everyone to the car without being stretched completely out of shape, or chucking anyone into the river. The drive back home was punctuated by a few renditions of 'The restaurant's open, remember? I wonder if it's time for dinner?' Then Dude reached waaaay back into the archives with 'Would you like butter...? Or honey with your bread, Pooh?' I also received a couple of pokes in the right shoulder from the female passenger. But after a stop at Steak and Shake the ride from then on was pretty quiet, and pain free. (soooo worth the money) Luckily for me, we didn't have to actually drive through Pittsburgh, so I didn't have to explain to any security people what we were doing in their buildings on a Saturday evening. (Really, sir, there's no need to call the police, we're just here to ride the elevators.) We eventually arrived back home with varying degrees of satisfaction. I, because I'd finally seen something I'd wanted to see for years, was completely satisfied with the trip. Raine and Dude seemed to be most satisfied with the conclusion, and retired to varying degrees of couch-potato-ness (another new word!) and shook their heads over my wandering weirdness.