July 24: Flint, Michigan to Canada to Niagara Falls
We saw it all. We saw the souvenir shops and sitting
on the mist above the falls the brilliant signs
saying hotels to love in, cigarettes to smoke,
souvenirs for proof; we give you anything you want...
Alan Dugan “Niagara Falls” (1947)
Niagara Falls is very nice. It’s like a large version of the old Bond sign on Times Square. I’m very glad I saw it, because from now on if I am asked whether I have seen Niagara Falls I can say yes, and be telling the truth for once.
John Steinbeck, Travels With Charley
Soundtrack: Pearl Jam; Fiona Apple, Tidal; Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas soundtrack (again)
Waking in Flint, Michigan, across the road from the GM Plant, the limitations of our Day’s Inn were soon apparent. In the dark it seemed to be a well groomed, pleasant accommodation, constructed in a u-shape around a courtyard pool and grassy area. By daylight, the swimming pool was defunct and covered with a tarp, the concrete facade was crumbling at the edges, and the restaurant was actually a rowdy sports bar that opened to early drinkers at 8 in the morning. Several of the patrons claimed to have been laid off at the GM plant, including the desk clerk at the motel. We had looked forward to visiting the GM factory and seeing where the HHR came from, but most of the tours listed in the visitors’ brochure had not actually been given for ten years and the ones that remained did not start until after Labor Day. My plan for contacting the General Motors community relations department and getting sponsored for the remainder of the trip were summarily dashed.
I made a mental note to rent Roger and Me and bone up on how this sorry state of things had come to pass.
For now, all we could do was enjoy the continental breakfast, hang out until the Law and Order rerun on t.v. was over, and pack up for the trip to Canada that Steinbeck had been denied because he forgot to vaccinate his Charley. The day was surreally bright, with the sunroof open onto pure blue and the tree-lined streets of Michigan gliding by. Before we left the states there was, of course the matter of the pin button for Michigan, and we stopped into a thrift shop to find one, but no luck.
As we got gas, the attendant was adding 10¢ more to the price board for every grade. I drank a diet coke to wake up for Canada, but again, not much luck, and after the bridge Laura took over, pronouncing the place “boooring.” I couldn’t stay awake to alleviate the boredom the way Charlie always did – with lively game of Guess My Animal, our version of 20 Questions.
And so it went until Niagara Falls, where all tourism broke loose, with mega-hotels, crowded restaurants and parking a mile away down an albeit scenic drive. One more we crossed into the States, and the contrast to the Canadian circus was amazing. In state parks on the northern and southern edges of the falls, we walked along cliffside trails overlooking a great vortex upstream from the falls and dined in splendor overlooking the sunset and the nightly light show from the Canadian side. The portion of salmon on my salad was sufficient for lunch the next day, we took one last look over the edge and left more than satisfied. Now that was a peak experience!
After dark. the industrial jungle south of the Falls beguiled me with other lights on towers and factory smokestacks. It took an hour or so to get back on the road to New York City; the night stretched out a broken line that glowed in the dark between the lanes as I drove our self-sufficient little chamber on to our destination. Laura stretched out in the back, relaxing on the star pillows as if she were in her own bed. The only element missing was Charlie, reduced to ashes and memories.