Niagara Fails

Patrick and I recently ventured up to New York to reunite with my family for my cousin’s wedding. It was great seeing everyone, and we figured, though limited on time, we’d make a quick visit to Niagara Falls because we’re rarely in New York, and even then we don’t venture outside New York City.

The wedding was in Rochester and then we were having a family gathering in Grand Island, and it was in between these events that we thought we’d be able to squeeze in a tourist attraction that typically takes an entire day. Whatever.

No matter how old I get, I can never seem to get a good grasp on estimating how long things take and planning accordingly. Time is like a mythical creature that I can’t see or touch or welcome into my inner circle. I used to hear my alarm go off and negotiate things I’d give up if only I could sleep in longer. I will only brush my teeth for one minute, yeah, that’ll save time! And then I’d snooze for 30 minutes. As if I’ve ever brushed my teeth for 31 minutes. No person in the history of dentistry, not even the most orally hygienic brushers exceed four minutes. And here I was, planning to skip rinsing the shampoo out of my hair so I could sleep in until 8:50 and somehow still start work at 9. So of course I’m thinking Hey! We have two hours until the cookout. We have plenty of time to drive an hour and a half, drop our stuff off at our B&B, change our outfits, visit a national monument and be back in time for the cookout. We had two hours of driving to do in two hours, yet I thought, “We have time to visit Niagara Falls.” No. Because, no. Even I can’t believe me sometimes.

What we expected to encounter was an unparalleled view so majestic that we would weep at the mere sight of it. Nature at its finest. Instead, what we saw when we first arrived were crowded parking lots, food trucks and tacky souvenir shops stretching for miles in every direction.

We hopped in the first of the 29 lines we would go on to stand in that day, lines that were seemingly endless and comprised of the entire continent of Asia. Patrick offered to hold our spot while I, on the brink of peeing my pants, leapt (not literally, because I would have leaked urine all over myself) at the opportunity to duck into the bathroom for a quick bladder-emptying. Which, if I may delve (maybe a bit too personally) into what’s been happening with my bladder, I seem to have traded mine out with that of a 70-year-old woman. I have to pee every 12 minutes like clockwork, and when I’m not actively sitting atop a toilet, I have to maintain a constant state of lower body clenching so as not to release the droplets of urine that seem to be straddling the doorway out of my body.

Trotting back toward Patrick, I saw him, along with a crowd of people, being directed from one line into another. “We would have been through already,” he told me. “The line moved so fast, I was in front of all these people but had to let them go because you were in the bathroom.”

The line didn’t really move anymore, we mostly just stood around while the clouds darkened and started to pour on us. Wind howled and turned rain droplets into violent pelts. Patrick, meanwhile, towered over everyone, so he was exposed to the elements wearing nothing but a long-sleeved button-up shirt, a pair of jeans and his wife’s flip-flops.

We waited for a long time while someone spoke about us being in a group, though we weren’t part of any tour we knew of, and when we were nearing the front of the line, they announced too many tickets had been sold and they’d reached max capacity inside, so we’d have to wait five minutes for them to start selling tickets again. And yet again I’m confronted with how detrimental a dysfunctional bladder can be.

“Do you want to just look at it?” Patrick asked, implying we’d skip riding Maid of the Mist, the boat that hauls gaggles of poncho-clad Asians, and occasionally a few others, into the eye of the falls. He was pointing toward an overlook point, adorned with safety rails, that jutted out toward the falls. He didn’t have to mention that we could do this 1) for free or 2) immediately. Most of Patrick’s good ideas don’t need the details explained. I understood all of this.

“No, let’s get on the boat!” Because maybe on Planet Whitney, if you throw your poncho on really fast, you get back some of the time you wasted standing in line and make it to your family cookout on time. Ticket sales resumed, but because we weren’t technically part of the group we’d been clumped with, we had to stand aside and wait for all of them to pass first, further delaying our sightseeing. Further perpetuating my bitter resentment for my overactive bladder.

We made it up stairs, through turnstiles, around corners. We snaked back and forth, shivering in the rain. Sly tourists tried to sneak past us, to cut, and a few successfully pulled it off, which only made us more miserable: deep in the coldest part of hell. “How much longer from here?” Patrick asked one of the employees, a young man, probably late teens, who commented on Patrick’s resemblance to Adam Levine. “Not long.” We were herded like livestock into the elevator that took us to the lower level and opened up to several hundred miles of slow-moving lines. Not long, I could hear his echo in my head. Like, Hey guy, how long did the Jews wander in the desert? Not long. How long did it take for women to get the right to vote? Not long. How long has the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict been going on? Not long.

We’d bought our tickets, it didn’t matter that we were an hour late for the cookout already and weren’t even glimpsing the end of the line. A few more slow twists and turns, the minutes ticking by, and Patrick finally says, “This will take at least another hour.” We’d paid for our tickets with money and time. We’d subjected ourselves to the cold and the wind and the rain. And now, after all that, we were going to step out of line and go home. “I don’t want you to be upset,” he said. “I’m upset I’m not with my family.” We hopped the gate and trotted toward the exit, the pads of our feet slippery in our sandals.

“Look,” he said, pointing to a rocky staircase that led straight up to the water. “Want to go up there?” Unfortunately, we’d left the line before getting ponchoed.

“Let’s just take these,” he said, pointing to a giant recycling can filled above the brim with ponchos. And the whole time I was wearing it and the knot tied beneath the hood kept brushing against my mouth, all I could think about was whose mouth it was brushing against before it was yanked off and discarded. So unsanitary.

The climb up the stairs was treacherous, the wind pounded the water that came crashing down on us in heavy waves. I held the railing to keep from taking a steep, painful fall. Our eyes were no match for the pouring water, allowing us to catch split seconds of glances before closing again. We made it to the top, the drops hung in the air like fog. The water dumped on us – over the edge and onto our bodies. We left, dripping wet, and trotted the half mile back to the car. We stripped out of our wet clothes, which clung – seemingly for life – to our bodies. We’d brought towels and spare outfits, and we blasted the heat on our way to my aunt’s house. I wiped off my makeup – which more closely resembled the markings of a woodland creature than the workings of a cosmetics line.

By the time we’d arrived, everyone had already eaten, but they still had food out for us.

It’d cost us hours of our life, $10 for parking, $17 each for the unused Maid of the Mist tickets and a mascara stain on my white hoodie that will never come out.

“So?” they asked. “How was Niagara Falls?”


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