Random Sense Memories: 

Smell: Somehow all Rite Aid’s smell the same…and somehow, a smell can be depressing.
Sound: The tsunami of noise created by 1,000 cheap plastic ponchos rustling in the wind at Niagara Falls
Touch/Feel: The subtle crunch of Raisin Bran flakes being masticated by the motel cereal dispenser
Taste: Spoonfuls of nourishing peanut butter when the body feels weak
Sight: Tourists in Trash Bags.

Well, this was a pretty crappy day…our first rain-sopped clunker…until the end.

To begin with it was a Sunday, and Sundays, for a number of reasons, have been our slowest days. People don’t want to be bothered on Sundays, if they go out at all.

After cooking up a glorious, beautiful, overflowing pile of roast potatoes straight out of a Pablo Neruda poem at our friend Meaghann’s house, we made the 90 minute drive to Niagara Falls.

That’s when the rain started. It was a Stage 5 Stinger. We tried to wait it out in the car, but it wasn’t relenting. Hard-headed fools that we are, we excavated the umbrellas from the back – water flooding in the trunk all the while– and made a dash for the park. I’ve talked a little bit about the importance of context in making connections, and never was that more apparent than in the Niagara Falls Visitor Center. There we were, shoulder to shoulder with 500 dripping strangers, all herded together with nothing to do – a seemingly perfect situation – and not one wanted a postcard. The only thing worse than a tourist is a soaking wet tourist. It felt like standing in line at Burger King or something. Nobody wanted to be there.

After a while the rain did finally relent. The Falls themselves were not as high as I’d imagined them in my head, but, as you can see, it was still a beautiful sight.

I was surprised by how close they let you get to The Falls. With the hop of one little 3-foot railing, I could’ve performed the most epic can-opener ever.

 We thought that since the rain had cleared people might be a little friendlier, but then we hit the second barrier: the language barrier. It’s hard enough to explain this project in English!

On top of all this, my friend and co-traveler, Phil, was struggling with a wicked head cold/sinus headache. He’s a trooper, so he’s battling through it, but I know he is dragging. Every once in a while I look over at the passenger seat and he looks like a dying, mouth-open Khal Drogo from Game of Thrones.

So you can see how this day seemed to have “LOST CAUSE” written all over it. We checked into a Super 8 motel in nearby Kenmore, New York, and Phil immediately passed out. There was still about an hour of daylight left, so I decided to go out in search of redemption.

Down the street I found a big public park with dry, crunchy grass and a series of open-air wooden structures that reminded me of Maori meeting houses in New Zealand. The first group I approached was packing up, rolling tin-foil over the potato salad and beans – another stroke of bad luck/timing – but I went for it anyway.

To connect with a big group of strangers I’ve found it’s often best to first approach a sub group. No one in this group seemed to be under the age of 65 – another challenge, since seniors are the most skeptical of wandering strangers. I approached a group of two couples who were standing in a circle, talking. There was no natural opening, so I just kind of stood behind this short old lady and smiled and waved like a doofus until they saw me.

“Can we help you?”

“Hi, yes, this is going to sound a little strange, but I’m traveling across America doing this art project…”

Three of the four immediately tuned me out. The guy on the left rolled his eyes. But there was one woman, straight ahead, who listened. And when I finished she smiled and said, “Well, that’s great! I’ll take one!” Her acceptance prompted the others to ask me to explain it again, and then I’d won all four of them over.

The group of four connected me to the group of 20, and I explained it a third time. Turns out they were celebrating their 50th high school reunion!

They not only took postcards but piled up a huge plate of food for me!

Feeling better now, I walked over to the adjacent gathering…and went through the same process. After the initial Awkward Bomb, they warmed up. Turns out they were a Beer Brewing club out for their summer picnic. They had all kinds of amazing, creative home brews – Belgian whites filtered through Fruity Pebbles, American brown ales with Reeces Peanut Butter cups – and they wouldn’t let me leave without taking a few bottles for the road.

So, back at the Super 8, I ended up with this glorious meal:

 And that’s not even the end! Some of the Beer Brewing Folks invited me to come watch the Olympic closing ceremonies with them, so there I was as the sun went down, in some stranger’s house, although it didn’t feel that way; it just felt normal, like we were all friends. Amazing how fast that can happen…how fast a crappy day can be redeemed.

3 responses to “Niagara Falls”

  1. Anonymous says:

    This is my 3 rd attempt to post here! Security is tight on this blog ;). Love your blog and art project. Did u go into canada ? I find them to be polite and engaging . Sorry i missed u in New jersey would have loved to get a post card!

  2. Ben Yezuita says:

    So neat how the day was revamped after all the rain! I love how 1 became 4, then 20, and more! Trooper is a very good word, best wishes to you and the Team

  3. Anonymous – sorry, don’t know what’s up w/ that – you can still get the postcard template on the website! Tip-toed along the border but never went into Canada.

    Ben – thanks! You’re one of the very few people to know how it works from experience.

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