Before the pandemic, I went with my good buddy Farles to Comic-Con in Niagara Falls, Canada. I’m not much of a comic book fan, but Farles is and I liked the excuse of crossing the border for a change of scenery. We headed up early on a Saturday morning with the intention of hitting the festival and then spending the evening bar-hopping. Neither of us knew that Niagara Falls is not a place that inspires fun, especially from me.
Niagara Falls, Canada offers the best view of the falls but it’s a tourist trap of a town and not much more, a dollar rake, a giant manicured billboard that attracts flies and looks and feels like the world’s biggest putt-putt golf course. While other cities in Ontario like Kingston, Belleville, and St Catherines exude rich culture and personality, Niagara Falls has somehow made itself devoid of any discernable richness and displays the personality of a chewed pen cap.
Comic-Con was fantastic. The people were generous, the costumes amazing, and the venue itself was perfect. I was able to meet Carrol Spinney and get an autograph for my son, who at the time was a Big Bird/Sesame Street fan. I was cut in line waiting for Carrol, but the fans that cut me were so excited to meet him they were sobbing. I decided to keep my American duty to fairness at my side. Farles and I had a great time and spent hours combing through old comics and meeting some of the minds behind the art.
It wasn’t until we left the venue that I began to grow afoul. It hit me when I walked past Jimmy Buffet’s restaurant Margaritaville, the song by the same name blaring on tinny-sounding speakers for the people passing on the sidewalk to hear. It was supposed to entice us to go in but it looked too like an obstacle on putt-putt golf. We continued down the main strip and noticed that most of the buildings looked like they belonged to the same tacky course.
Large flashing neon signs with whimsical designs adorned every corner. It made me queasy if not downright nauseous. I went into an arcade and shot basketballs and won tickets. I used them to buy a mini deck of playing cards. I stored them in my breast pocket and then went outside and got into an argument with a doctor from Saudi Arabia about Donald Trump.
We walked into a taco bar. I stuck my twisted and disheveled face over the bar and yelled drink orders with messy hair and du Maurier stained breath at the bartender. A nice Canadian couple out on a date wanted to talk to us about America. I acted friendly and asked them if they wanted to see a card trick. They were delighted.
I took out the mini card deck and shuffled, asking them to pick a card. They put the card back in the deck and I moved the cards around until I flipped over a card and said “Is this your card?” They said no. I asked if the next card was theirs. They said no. I could see their dejected faces as they realized I didn’t know how to do any card trick.
“I bet you feel disappointed, huh?” I said.
“Yeah”, the husband said, “I guess so.”
I tossed the deck into the air, mini cards flying all over the bar. “Now you know how I feel about Canada”, I said and turned my back on them. The couple quickly paid their bill and walked out, their shoes sending the cards into further scatter along the hardwood floor.
Then we inadvertently stole the worst tasting pizza I have ever had. Neither of us remembered how we stole it, but we definitely never paid. What we do remember is that the pizza was terrible.
We staggered to the curb and slurped it up, the roofs of our mouths dripping skin the next day. We didn’t give a damn about anything. We roared with laughter, shouted what we wanted, and acted like boisterous flashy Americans. No one in Canada was impressed.
The next morning, we had splitting headaches. We went into the lobby to pay the hotel bill. There was a laundry list of taxes.
The hotel room was trash, but cost double the price advertised because of the taxes. One of them was a parking lot tax. I berated the clerk about the dangers of socialism, even though I believed nothing I was saying, it was all for show. Farles waited outside while I continued my soliloquy, wildly gesticulating and banging the paper receipt with my free hand. No one was listening. I couldn’t have cared less.
We went to the duty-free to exchange the rest of our colorful Canadian money back into the envy green American dollar. I was fed up. Not with Canada but with myself.
I was a typical American and even though Niagara Falls is a ridiculous tourist trap hell, the people were nice and the infrastructure sharp and the city clean. I was picking on it for looking like a putt-putt golf course, but I was jealous of how much of a nicer country existed just a few miles away from my home. I hardly heard a siren or so an argument, didn’t see urban tumbleweeds of trash cascading through the streets, never saw a cop pat someone down under a street sign.
It was early in the morning and the duty-free was empty. There were 5 older women behind the counter, smiling. The path to the exchange window was lined with candy and snacks. One was a small bag of American flag candies. It was my turn to step up to the window. I held the candy up for the ladies to see and smiled.
“American candy huh? I bet it tastes bitter and indignant.” I tossed the bag wearily back into the pile.
The ladies stared unamused. One actually said “Oh dear,” in a very motherly and disappointed way. Farles rolled his eyes and waited outside as I traded my money in silence.
I saw those poor ladies as the last stop to America, the point of no return, a happy group before the frowning border patrol agents, the ululating police sirens, the crime, drugs, hatred, and dilapidating infrastructure. We crossed the border in silence confirming my mislaid contumacy in Canada.