“It’s once in a lifetime!” exclaimed my wife, Sena, as she also told me she’d already reserved a hotel and bought plane tickets for (what else?) a trip to Niagara Falls for the July 4th holiday just passed. Part of the reason I’ve not been posting in the last several days is that I sort of dropped off the grid for the excursion to the oldest state park in the U.S.A. Part of the goal was to get my head out my work and out of my blog for a while.
It worked. There wasn’t even cell phone service out there. It was a small taste of retirement and it wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. Fair warning…you’re going to see a lot of pictures of Niagara Falls.
On the plane between Chicago and Buffalo, we got some complimentary glasses of water and I spilled a little on myself. That was an omen. In a couple of days I would learn about a place called the Hurricane Deck at the Cave of the Winds…the hard way.
Anyway, when we got to Buffalo, we had to find a way to get to Niagara Falls. It turns out that there are shuttles but they’re more expensive than a little Taxi service, the director of which told us we’d have to wait a half hour for the next cab out.
That was before a cabbie named Moe (short for Mohamed) volunteered to drive us out there immediately. He was the color of coffee beans and his face was fringed by a neatly trimmed beard, the hair white as mine. He struggled a little to heft our one modest-size bag into the trunk, but I restrained myself from offering to help him. Moe is one of those ageless rather than aged gentlemen taxi drivers who had many stories to tell us on the way to Niagara…many, many stories.
Moe also had advice to give about how to best use our time at Niagara…lots and lots of advice; in fact very sound advice as we discovered. He also was an excellent salesman, disparaging the other shuttle services just enough and hinting about the importance of avoiding being “stranded” when the time came for us to depart because the shuttles would never pick us up at the door of the motel. The shuttles might make us late to check in for our return flight. But Moe would take good care of us, such special care because of… my beautiful wife.
It was the artful combination of sincerest flattery and subtle innuendo about his competitors which won us over. Of course we hired Moe on the spot for the trip back to Buffalo.
There’s a lot of fun things to do at Niagara Falls, even though it’s a very small place. Of course, the falls are the main event…pretty much the only event, it’s true, but what an event.
The falls, whether you view them from the American or the Canadian side (and we dutifully did both as Moe commanded) are spectacular, miraculous, really indescribable as many know who have been there. It’s truly a once in a lifetime experience.
The crowd was unbelievable; people came from all over the world. And still there were those who gladly took pictures of Sena and me.
There were extremely long lines for the two most popular attractions, Maid of the Mist and the Cave of the Winds. As we stood in line waiting for the latter, we heard one man rushing past us bark at his children who asked about it, “It takes 4 hours to get into; we’re not doing that!”
Yes, it took about three and a half hours. There were three separate lines to endure. One to get our tickets validated, another to get our sandals (yes, sandals!), and another (the longest) to finally get to the Cave of the Winds itself. It was hot. People gave up–but not many. Some wilted and sat in the grass as the line moved a few inches every 10 minutes or so punctuated by the hyper-friendly and enthusiastic voices of the relentlessly smiling park employees (“OK, if you can’t stand in line, then you’ll have to be lashed to the statue of Nikola Tesla while a giant eagle with 10 inch claws rips your entrails out sloooooowly…thank you so much!”).
Sena dragged me all the way to the Hurricane Deck. You will have to go and experience that for yourselves. Words alone cannot describe it.
Sunday finally came when we had to go home. I called Moe the day before just to confirm that he was able to pick us up. “I’ll be there, brother.” What a magical voice. When he arrived, while Sena took care of checkout, Moe and I talked of babies, marriages, deaths in our families, good fortune and bad…the talk of old men. And on the way back to Buffalo, Moe regaled us with tale after tale, each one more colorful than the last, ending with his penultimate revelation that he is a Mughal, distantly but directly related to the emperor Shah Jahan who had the Taj Mahal erected in his favorite wife’s honor upon her death.
And Moe the Mughal then finally revealed that for the entire time he has been working as a cabbie, stretching from 1979 to 2015…he has been waiting for this encounter with my beautiful wife and me.
Such a sentiment is truly once in a lifetime.