Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Tale of Two Border Guards.

In the past month or so Yours Truly has crossed the U.S.A.-Canadian border, moving from alleged democracy to dominion for a piece for the Shiney Happy Mag.
The piece's gist is that the Niagara Falls, New York experience surpasses that to be had on the not-twinned Niagara Falls, Ontario.

Much is always made of the difference between the two sides, and it's generally believed that the U.S. side is tragic, the American side of the falls a sad stone's throw from a very dismal inner city, a former city's downtown and governmental businesses razed for the sake of Urban Renewal.

Then, if the hype is to be believed, the Canadian side is thee place to celebrate the Falls with a wider, better view and with more distractions and attractions.

For shits, giggles and Your erudition, I'll paste in my 1K piece for the SHM.
It's only 1K, read the damned thing, and then YT will present the story of the other border guard, as the first border guard encountered that crossing day figures prominently in the piece, at its beginning.

The Mightiest Multi-Waterfall Experience: NFNY
Story and Photos: Nancy J. Parisi

When asked the purpose of my last trip to Canada by the border services officer with the bad-ass moustache/mirrored sunglasses pairing I opted for full disclosure: “I’m doing a story comparing the two Niagara Falls experiences.” The officer, voice escalating, asked “Where do you start?” “By focusing on the positive aspects of both,” I replied. Our exchange continued with the officer, obviously believing me journalistically misguided, describing (with a wave of his hand to whatever awaited me to his left) the abundance of attractions on this side of the river. “Niagara Falls, New York has been boarded up for thirty years, there’s nothing there. Good luck,” he sneered, handing back my passport card.

What I could not, or would not, tell the border services officer is that I’ve already formed my opinions about what the divergent Niagara Falls experiences have to offer, and was merely here to confirm. Whereas Niagara Falls, Ontario serves up what might be best described as a Vegas-like way to view all three of the Falls (American, Horseshoe, Bridal), Niagara Falls, New York allows one the experience of Cataracts viewing in a more natural, and immediate manner.

This estimation was cemented within me a number of years ago when commissioned by an American publication founded by Europeans (with strong Euro-leanings) to make magnificent/decrepit editorial images that illustrated the very same belief of the aforementioned border patrol officer. I made images on both sides of the Falls showing what a visitor can and does do at this official natural world wonder.

By the end of the assignment I found the Canadian Falls experience, despite the manicured and perfectly-paved pathways, to be rather distanced. When walking alongside Niagara River Parkway–and its six lanes of traffic–near this watery hub, the gaze is toward the water but there is little green space within which to enjoy this viewing: pedestrians walk along pavement and, when needing sustenance, head uphill to a number of restaurants, taverns, and curiosity shops. There are strips of gardens right at the brink (with some souvenirs and refreshments tucked in), but there is little feeling of danger, or interactivity. The waterfalls, while all in view within one postcard-perfect expanse, are remote.

Niagara Falls, New York, by contrast, features miles of hiking alongside the Falls, as well as in woods on pathways encircling and crisscrossing Goat Island, Three Sisters Islands, and toward Prospect Point. If visiting Goat Island remember to look for the large bronze statue of the inventor Nikola Tesla (all about transformers, generators, and, quite possibly, the father of wi-fi), captured mid-reading. Visitors are frequently photographed sitting on Tesla’s lap, on top of his papers.

The Upper Rapids, spectacular year-round, are lovely to visit as a preamble to the supercharged ionized air and rumblings of the Falls. I like to show visitors the Upper Rapids first, letting them walk toward them without introduction, to witness the power of the water before the Falls, to feel the power without guardrails–a bit of grass and brush separating their body from millions of gallons of charging water.

Both sides of the Falls have parking that costs $10. On the American side parking is much closer to the attraction at hand; both sides have transportation if needed. Illustrating the difference between American and Canadian sides are the public viewing apparatuses: on the American side a viewing may be purchased for a quarter whereas the Canadian side (with viewers resembling Brancusi sculptures) has viewing for $1.00 for “single time,” $2 for “double time.”

At the time of this writing Niagara USA Visitor Center, representing all of Niagara County (not just the Falls), had relocated temporarily to the former Niagara Club that is under new ownership. Their new, mod headquarters will be at halcyon 10 Rainbow Boulevard–cataracts are to mist as mist is to rainbows … despite any urban blight in proximity.

A three-year enthusiastic employee there, David, was busy advising tourists about nearby attractions, pointing to a hand-out map: “Number 11 is an IMAX-style movie about the Falls, and lasts 40 minutes, number 14 are the contraptions that people made to go over the Falls, and this is the historical wax museum, the daredevil museum is free, and here is our small aquarium–but they have penguins.”

The two tourist couples didn’t share David’s enthusiasm for penguins, but they were keen on heading to Maid of the Mist for some short-term boating and up-close Falls viewing. They were not planning on crossing the border, due to passport issues. I asked David which side of the Falls are more busy and without hesitation he stated “the Canadian side, of course.” He adds that he talks to people all day about what to do at Niagara Falls and that sometimes, if visitors have been to the Canadian side first, they comment on the park setting of the American side. “They enjoy the park itself,” he says, “and the Falls.”

Living less than twenty miles away from the Falls, and having grown up upstream from this wonder, it’s easy to forget how to distill the experience of viewing all of this without political/socio-economic trappings. Distilled down, Niagara Falls remains a mostly-unspoiled, not over-developed viewing.

Of course urban renewal and the like destroyed what was thriving albeit problematic Niagara Falls, New York. What remains is a wonder, a park, a ring of acceptable restaurants, some faltering businesses, and beyond some inner-city neighborhoods. Despite the condition of what is nearby, people are traveling there to be enthralled, to be fed, to take home a reminder of their enthrallment.

Just disembarked from Maid of the Mist, and walking toward The Great Lakes Gardens beyond the visitor center, Kathryn Craig and Dan Craig of Rochester, New York, gush about their visit to N.F., N.Y. This is the premier Falls visit for both and they vow to return with their children, and grandchildren.

Dan says “we’ve got High Falls at home, and we are amazed at how big this is, High Falls is one-eighth of what this is.” “I loved it, I want to come back,” Kathryn exalts. The two have no plans to cross the border to see the other side, pleased enough with this experience. They’re spending the night at a nearby hotel, celebrating Kathryn’s birthday. Their jubilance is inspiring.

So the other border guard, encountered whilst crossing back.
He's about half the age - or so - of the snarly Canadian border guard, and he's got a shaved head and is wearing Prada sunglasses.
As I pull up to his booth, just after the Queenston-Lewiston bridge, I ask if he can please give me directions to Location X.
Without raising an eyebrow he goes online and Google Map's my directions.
After I've handed him the passport card I ask if he acquired his sunglasses at the nearby Duty Free. No, he says, my girlfriend bought them for me.
So after brief discussion about sunglasses, and directions, I'm off, him handing me my passport card saying Don't forget this - as if YT was about to leave it atop a ginmill's bar.

Onward I drove, onward I wrote.

Onward to More, Love.