Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

The Shadow Over Niagara

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

It all began with two of the most potent words in the English language: “road trip”. Not a very big road trip mind you, just an evening jaunt down to Niagara Falls for my friend could purchase a brand new 1987 Honda scooter-thing from a guy who fixed them up in his garage.  My friend, whom we shall call ‘Dave’, invited me to go along with him to Niagara, and I agreed. Besides, I had never even been in that part of Ontario. We were off on our magical journey.

And what a magic journey it was. We travelled past the creaking monoliths of Hamilton, through the mysterious, untamed, jungles of the Ontario wine country, and skirted the borders of the mythical kingdom of Niagara-On-the-Lake. We arrived on the outskirts of Niagara, where we met the Honda wizard who, in exchange for the promise of gold, would sell my friend one of his finest mechanical steads. I must say that I felt the poison sting of envy.

After the trade had been made, we continued on towards the Falls of Niagara, and truly, they were a miracle of nature. Thundering, Powerful… and oddly they were also backlit at night. We were awed, yes, but we had expected to be awed by this miracle of nature. What we did not expect was the city itself.

The casinos were huge. Neither Dave nor myself had ever seen on one of them, and I had always imagined as the casinos of Niagara Falls as being relatively small. In reality, they were  full fledged hotel sized money pits, and one even had neon lights continuously screaming “CASINO!” into the murky night. Much impressed, Dave and myself were discussing this as we began driving up a hill, which is where a small sign  indicated that Niagara Fall’s tourist area lay… an area also known as Clifton Hill.

And then we turned around a corner and gasped with wonder. Rainbow coloured neon lights assaulted our senses from every angle. Strangely shaped buildings, almost non-euclidean in their design, beckoned, inviting us to experience everything from wax movie stars to haunted houses to a maze of mirrors. The familiar emblems of some restaurants were the only things I could hold onto amid the garish strangeness. It was different. It was tacky. It was the most horrible thing I had ever seen. It was glorious.

We parked the car and began to walk around, sampling the atmosphere. We were rapidly drawn into the epicentre of the madness, a strangely tilted sign advertising the presence of the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum. It was clear that this was indeed the true reason for our presence here and we hardly blinked at the price of ticket before venturing inside, drawn forward by insidious, unearthly, forces.

Medieval torture devices. Wax sculptures. A shoe belonging to the world’s tallest man. A spinning tunnel, which seemed to be a symbol of the dive into the madness that would inevitably overtake all who wandered into this building unprepared. Plaques sought to inform us of everything from American flags made out of seeds to the history of grave digging. I only have a few pictures from that place, but they have all turned out subtly… wrong… as if the museum existed someplace perpendicular to our own reality. We left, shaken and scarred, yet satisfied.

The air of unreality dissipated somewhat as we left that place. We ate burgers at a Wendy’s, itself not uneffected by the hill, as it had seemed to have swelled to gargantuan proportions. This Wendy’s belonged in R’lyeh. Finally, we worked up the strength to leave this place. We walk down from the hill to catch a final glimpse of the Falls before heading back to Dave’s car.

As the radio blasted songs from yesteryear, we returned to our humble city and pedestrian lives, knowing that someday we would return. Though we had plumbed the fathoms of Clifton Hill’s insidious depths, we had only begun to explore. Our minds clamoured with the knowledge of it’s existence; knowledge the could never been unlearned. We would have to go back, and we would have to bring more victims to the Hill’s waiting maw.