Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Things You Learn in Niagara

I've traveled most of my life, and sometimes the things that I learn just amaze me.  I recently visited Niagara Falls for the first time in 16 years.  I know, it seems like a long time, especially since I only live a few hours away, but I like new things and only have so much time; therefore I don't get to go there often.  This was my first time going there since 9/11.  I don't think I realized how much things had changed.

The falls never change.  They are beautiful and one of my favorite sights in the world.  But the world around them is really different than it used to be.  Niagara Falls used to be one place that just happened to sit on the border of Canada and the United States.  I must say that it was always more entertaining on the Canadian side.  Sorry to my fellow Americans, but it's true.  That's where my story starts.  I made reservations to stay on the Canadian side.

Rainbow Bridge has become more than just a beautiful bridge.  It has become a tightly monitored border crossing.  That's not to say that it's really any easier at any other crossing, but this is one of the busy ones.  When 9/11 happened, these people were used to running back and forth to work, or to go out for an evening, maybe even see a movie.  I used to just stop and say "Hi, I'm going to Canada."  No one worried about anything.  One of the reasons that it's taken me so long to get back now is because I had to have a passport.  It's new to me.  I grew up in pre-apocolyptic times.  I have traveled back and forth to Canada, especially through Detroit and Windsor at least a hundred times in my life.  But now it's different.

Now you choose which boat to get soaked on.  If in the U.S. you will take the Maid of the Mist.  If you are in Ontario you will take the Hornblower.  I actually took the Maid of the Mist 16 years ago, when all the raincoats on all the boats from either side were blue.  I didn't take either cruise this time, because they are wet and miserable.  So, everyone should go once for the experience, but if you go twice, shame on you.

But, what about the crossing?  We had to drive up on a curb like structure on our way to Canada.  They asked all the usual questions, and asked me if my son was my son.  Legitimate question, since he could have been anyone with the same last name.  I'd never thought about that.  They wanted to know about alcohol and tobacco and such.  We waited in line about a half hour at a busy time on a Friday and we were gone.

Our plan was to go back the next day and go to the Cave of the Winds.  That's where everything got a little weird for me.  We got our stuff, minus our luggage which was tucked away in our hotel room, and we headed to the bridge.  Traffic was backed up for over a mile.  We sat in line for an hour and barely even moved.  We met some very nice people who live there, and they said that this was not common.  They should know.  But, was that true?  I still want to know.  After sitting in traffic that barely moved.  I mean only half a block or so, and that was because people were giving up and leaving in front of us.  The line itself had not moved at all.  We finally gave up and took the turn to go back to the Canadian Niagara Falls.  Sorry U.S.  I was only in town for a couple of days, and I didn't want to spend it all in line to get into my own country.

I always meet people in my travels whether it be at a comic book store, Tim Horton's, my hotel, a rock and roll wax museum or just watching the fireworks on a Friday night.  I saw the lines then, and I wondered what the deal was.  So, in my curious way, I started to ask people about the border crossing issue.  I was on the Canadian side, so the people that I talked to were from Canada.  Most of them don't bother with the crossing.  Most of them find it too much trouble, even though they used to cross it all the time to go to the casino, theater, or out to eat.  It's just too much trouble.  I talked to a retired couple who were in town for their honeymoon from Saskatchewan.  They were both widowed and giving love a second chance.  It was great, but would they go to the U.S?  No.  He used to be a trucker, and he told me all about his travels throughout both Canada and the U.S.  He said that something just changed.  It was like the whole world had gone nuts.  They did not even bring their passports with them, even though they were going to be looking at the U.S.  They had no desire to go, because of the border crossing.  So, there I was in Canada, I'd seen the border going back, and I wondered if I was going to be able to get back home.

So, there we were watching fireworks that I'm pretty sure are put on by Canada.  We listened to some live music before the fireworks that was also on the Canadian side.  Everything was beautiful, but how long would it really take to get back into the U.S?  No one mentioned some big thing at the border during the day, so we didn't know if that was normal, or if something had happened.  We did see police when we turned off, so maybe it was an incident.  Maybe it was just crowd control.  We weren't sure.  The locals all said that it wasn't normally like that, but they all also said that they never bothered to cross Rainbow Bridge, because it was too much trouble.  So, what was the deal?

So, we spent the rest of our brief visit playing on Clifton Hill, looking at Dinosaurs, riding the SkyWheel, walking through the gardens, and checking out the Hard Rock Casino.  We had a really good time.  We never did try to cross that border again, because we were on our way to Port Huron, Michigan.  We packed our bags and took off across the Ontario Peninsula to cross at the Michigan border.  It wasn't as busy up there as it was in Niagara, so what could go wrong?

Well, you tell me, America.  I got to Port Huron, and saw the biggest bridge I think I've ever seen towering hundreds and hundreds of feet above the water that was emptying into Lake Huron, and I got stuck in line at the border.  I got into a line that was only cars.  There weren't even any SUVs in my line.  I thought it should be easy.  I thought about a half hour.  No.  I don't even know how long we were there, but it was long enough for me to wonder why you couldn't use a cell phone up there.  I don't even like cell phones, but we were bored.  I was snapping pictures and my son was complaining.  At one point, I saw the officials take some guy away in handcuffs.  They stopped everything.

Was it a coincidence?  Did we just happen to be at these crossings when incidents happened?  As we passed, we noticed that there was little to no line on the side heading to Canada.  We talked during our wait, and we wondered if they would actually catch a terrorist if they were coming across the Canadian border.  After much deliberation, and the time to deliberate, we decided that they probably wouldn't  That's the irony.  We decided that if someone was trying to do something bad, that they would probably have prepared for it.  That guy that got arrested probably didn't do anything serious, because he was dumb enough to get caught doing whatever he did.  Real criminals know how to get through border crossings.  When we finally did cross, the guy we talked to to get back into the U.S. didn't even ask if my son was my son.  Looking back at my Canadian crossing a few days earlier, I found that I was upset.  That was the only question that I really thought made much sense.

So, I must say that my experience with the border left a lot of questions in my mind.  I wonder if being more thorough actually helps.  I wonder if there is really a good way to secure a border.  What should the border patrol really ask?  What are they really looking for?  Why are there so many arrests and problems on our side?  I'm not judging.  I just wonder about that stuff.  In the mean time, I say don't stop traveling because of it.  Just be aware and be prepared when you come back to this country.  Save a little extra time for what I'm assured is a rare hold up.

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