Niagara Falls – on a cloudy workday

You’re not supposed to visit wonders of the world ad hoc. You’re supposed to plan this stuff out, make a day of it, or whatever. As always though, when work sends you somewhere you need to remain flexible.

I was supposed to be in Buffalo with my boss for two days of stupid meetings. In his typical manner (I don’t like my job) this trip was booked on about two days notice. We get stuffed (for his loyalty points) at a hotel well to the east of Buffalo itself.

We get into Buffalo–Niagara International late Monday morning, and go straight to an office. But instead of taking the allotted four hours, it goes for like 90 minutes. Then the dude looks directly at me and he’s like, “Are we done?” Uh, yeah sure, why not. Don’t have to ask me twice.

So all of sudden it’s like 2pm and I have the rest of the day. I’m in Buffalo, so now what? Hell, Niagara Falls, that’s down the road right? Sure, why not. But he’s got the rental car. Fortunately, he’s probably more of a loser than I.  He just wants to sit in the hotel. So I get the rental car keys he kindly offers. So, apparently, now I’m unexpectedly driving to Niagara Falls. Okay.

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American Falls.

Once upon a time, before cheap discount air travel changed all of global travel, people vacationed or traveled to where a train or car could get them. If you lived in the American Northeast or Middle Atlantic, you didn’t jet set to Cancun or visit London or Iceland. Instead, you drove to places like Niagara Falls. For a good long while Niagara was the number one honeymoon destination on the planet. No more.

As I drove the back roads to Niagara from east of Buffalo I was struck by the starkness of the typical rust belt urban / suburban wasteland I’ve previously encountered. More than half the billboards were for things like opioid addiction, plastic surgery, and the like. It was like driving through other formerly paramount Northeastern tourist destinations that have been gutted by cheap air travel, such as New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

The swankiest looking building in downtown Niagara is (sigh) the freaking casino. Everything else looked burnt out, old, nostalgic from a different happier age. What’s been Cancun’s gain, is Niagara Falls’ loss. I’m not sure what to entirely make of all this, but it is what it is. That being said, Niagara Falls doesn’t disappoint.  It’s an awesome place to visit.

I was there on what turned into a cloudy summer afternoon. I kept fearing it would pour rain but I figured it was worth the risk. It misted a bit here and there, but otherwise the weather cooperated.

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Long distance shot of Horseshoe Falls from Prospect Point.  Note tourist boat getting a good soaking.

Niagara Falls is actually a series of falls. Combine them all together, and depending on how you count, it’s essentially one of the top three waterfalls on Earth.

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Handy map for reference.  Not my shot.

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Looking north down river into Niagara Gorge.  Note Rainbow Bridge, aka Department of Homeland Security parking lot #428.4b.

I ended up at Prospect Point. You can park there for a small fee. Walk over and you’re at American Falls.

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Out of all the places I’ve visited in America, this was the most international I’ve ever seen a tourist crowd. I was one of the only home team members there. Almost everybody else was from elsewhere on the planet. This was on a summer weekday. So my only conclusion is that the international community is more into Niagara Falls than regular Americans. I guess USA folks take it for granted? Or maybe Americans prefer hanging out on the beaches of Cancun over seeing a big waterfall? Not sure.

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American Falls Rapids.

Prospect Point is very crowded. You get a good view of the American Falls though. In the distance you can see Horseshoe Falls. But the best way to go is to walk a bit. Head across the bridge to Luna Island and Goat Island. It’s less crowded and your view of the Falls are better.

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American Falls Rapids with American Rapids Bridge.

You could truly make a whole day at Niagara. Maybe not a whole week, unless it was actually your honeymoon and you were otherwise occupied, but a whole day yes. You could walk the Falls on both sides of the border. You could take the old fashioned boat to get soaked by the Falls. There is also a walkway near the Cave of the Winds where you can get soaked on foot at the base of the Falls. You could also hike all the trails and get a good view of all the preparatory rapids. It’s truly a full day awaiting you.

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American Falls from Luna Island, where your doom over the Falls is literally three feet away from your face.  So awesome.

I was there for a few hours. I’ll be back.

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PS I posted this groundhog a few weeks back. The answer to the riddle was Niagara Falls. This dude was just going about his day about four feet from the edge of Niagara Falls. You can see the mist in the background of the shot. The little guy (or gal) knows his (or her) stuff. I’m sure the groundhog fatality rate at the Falls annually is zero percent.

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Toke up little buddy!

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we unveil our diabolical scheme to solve violent protests

The country is apparently in trouble. Or so the news reminds you about every four seconds. It’s all crisis, all the time. Mostly because it’s good for ratings. But if you ask me, the country will be alright. Only about 0.0004% of us are truly unhinged. The rest of us? We seem to get along pretty well.

On any given day I see members of different races amicably chatting on the train, folks say good morning to one another without any irony at all, people provide money to a local proprietor in exchange for goods and services, parents love their kids, dogs and cats can live together, and so on.

But there are these fringe nuts who are trying to ruin it for the rest of us. With their violent protests and otherwise baffling behavior. What gives?

On one side we have these creatures who are self-professed Nazis. Apparently these idiots didn’t bother to read the memo from their German and Japanese counterparts dated May 8th, 1945 and September 2nd, 1945 respectively. How big of a loser do you have to be in life to choose Nazi is your chosen appellation? Fuck these guys. Even scientologists are more reasonable than these freaks.

On the other side we have the anti-fa, or anti-fascists, or Antifa, who theoretically exist to battle the Nazis off America’s streets. Because nothing says you’re not a Nazi than by engaging in behavior that includes beating up unarmed protestors, breaking the glass of private business, setting fires, and putting reporters in the hospital for filming them doing it. These shits don’t know nothing about history or anything, they should be wearing brown shirts instead of black, they’d fit right in.

If you ask me, all these people can be explained in one simple phrase: They all hate America. They all hate the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. They hate everything that makes us happy and great. It’s in their interests to turn us all against each other. And their political minders are just as accountable. It seems the President and about 2/3 of Congress and other local politicians have determined their selfish electoral futures depend on siding with evil.

But we can’t develop a plan to solve the deep seated corruption within America’s two major political parties. That’s impossible. We’re not the Aztec demon god Itzpapalotltotec. Hell, even Itzpapalotltotec wouldn’t want any part of that. You’d be like, “Itzpapalotltotec, we need to fix the Democrats and Republicans, for you see, …” and before you know it Itzpapalotltotec’s scrambling out the room saying he’s lost his keys and needs to go find them.

But we can develop a plan to solve the Nazis and the Antifa. Because it’s far easier to get idiots to do your work for you. And boy oh boy are these evildoers idiots.

Here’s our plan, bear with us, it’s rather involved:

1) We rent the CBS Studio for The Price is Right. By the way, if you’re young and haven’t seen this show, you should watch it at least once. It’s nice to remember an America where the worst thing that could happen to you in a given day was that a conglomerate would hock their poor quality vacuum to you.

2) We rename the show to Your Side is Right.

3) We invite the top 100 leaders from the Nazis and the Antifa. We do not tell them who the other 100 are. We tell them that whoever wins the Showcase Showdown is allowed to appoint the next Governor of their State and their next Senator to Congress.

4) Once we’ve got all 200 of them inside the Studio, we lock the doors. The American Communist Party and the Tea Party will provide security outside the Studio. Any Nazi or Antifa who tries to escape will be shoved back inside by Commies and Tea Party folks armed with American flags. They’ll use the flag halberds to poke them back inside. We also provide an ample beer supply so the Commies and Tea Party have something to do while the show occurs. Hopefully they all drink it, talk to each other, and learn they all aren’t such bad people after all.

5) Our game show announcer is Clint Eastwood. Because he’s a American icon, bitter, and is still rolling strong at 87. This guy is going to die directing a film on set, which is the most epic Clint Eastwood death ever. We get Eastwood into the Your Side is Right announcer’s booth and he’ll call down the contestants. We place the most expensive bottle of bourbon money can buy in there and our producer will remark to Eastwood as he’s seated, “We don’t care if you drink this.” So we’ll get his guttural voice bringing down each contestant with ballads such as, “It’s Darren, yes Darren Winslow, you’re the next pathetic piece of [beep] Nazi [beep] on Your Side is Right! You [beep] filth [beep].”

6) Our host? Acclaimed actor, cage fighter, wine connoisseur, and amateur bridge player Edward Thomas Hardy. As a limey he’s a neutral third party, doesn’t take shit from anybody, and can beat up any one of the Nazi or Antifa losers while also drunk and bored. We also give him a bottle of bourbon on a small table center stage. Hardy gets the contestants up on stage and the Nazi or Antifa guy thinks he’s going to get a chance to win a car. This is a big deal for the dude as he’s always lived with his parents and bikes to his job at the Sizzler. Hardy does the usual host shtick ala Bob Barker where he chats with the contestant before the potential prize is revealed. In his brutal Cockney accent, with his palm uncomfortably firmly gripping the guy’s shoulder, he’s like, “Well, let me be the first to welcome you to Your Side is Right. [polite applause] Yes, yes very exciting. Tell me guy, [beep] [beep] [beep] [beep] you think [beep] [beep] [beep] [beep] when we [beep] [beep] [beep] [beeeeeeeeep]!”

7) As the game show progresses, instead of being able to bid on a car or hot tub or whatever ultimately worthless material possession we instead treat our Nazi and Antifa friends to a bath of irony. Each one is trolled into their own personal hell. When the Nazi guy is on stage he gets to bid on a handwritten Torah or a trumpet once used by Miles Davis. The Antifa dude gets to bid on Hitler memorabilia or a hand-carved wooden plaque detailing the First Amendment. When they try to storm off stage Hardy grabs each by the back of the neck and pulls them back to the set, reminding them of their goal to win the Showcase Showdown to appoint the Governor and Senator, “Look [beep] blighter, you’re here to WIN right, right?”

8) We make sure Eastwood rigs the cards so that an equal number of Nazis and Antifa reach the stage, the Big Wheel, and ultimately the Showcase Showdown.

9) We do everything possible to antagonize emotions on both sides. We make the room real hot and stuffy, we deliberately deny use of the bathrooms and forbid all water and snacks, cell phone signals are jammed so max focus is on stage. Hardy constantly reminds the audience and the contestants of just exactly where they are and what’s at stake. Such throw away comments emerge from his mouth after he sips from his bourbon:

“Well I know who’s going to get to [beep] determine the future of this country.”

“One of you all owns the streets. Not sure whom. But I’d sure love to [beep] find out.”

“I love a good show. Don’t all you [beep] love one too? But to me, the greatest show of all, is who gets to rewrite history. You [beep].”

10) By the time the Showcase Showdown occurs we’ll have the place seething with rage and hate. There will literally be condensation of darkness dripping down the walls. Everybody’s exhausted and shouting. As the Showcase Showdown product displays play out, and all of sudden Hardy’s gone. He’s not there on stage anymore. Eastwood’s gone too. These 200 freaks are all alone.

11) Did we mention that upon entry we did not make use of the metal detectors? Whatever these 200 people were carrying when they walked in, they’re still carrying. Eastwood’s voice comes out through the speakers in a recorded announcement, “The winner of the Showcase Showdown and the chance to appoint the Governor and Senator is the last one out the door. Have fun. [beep]”

12) Several hours (or days, either way works for us) later only one man will leave the Studio. The Communists and Tea Party will be dismissed. The Studio will be burned to the ground. Eastwood and Hardy will escort our winner into a nondescript black van. He will never been seen again. America will thus be improved.

13) We need your support! We need money to make this idea happen. Tom Hardy doesn’t work for free. We have to pay CBS for the Studio. The Nazis and Antifa need paid travel expenses because most of them are unemployed. Etc.

Please kindly submit your donation to:

The Arcturus Project – Your Side is Right

C/O Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation

1794 Aguiyi Ironsi Street

Abuja 900001, Nigeria

Your cooperation, as always, is greatly appreciated. Only via your financial help can we improve America. Either that, or you can hold the door open for a total stranger sometime today, and smile at them. Either way.

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Let’s begin!  Spin the wheel!

we ask the most charismatic quarterback of all time for his opinion on the issues of the day

TAP: “Smokin’ Jay, what’s your take on Trump, whether player x, y, or z has sat, knelt, or bent during the national anthem, whether vegemite is fit for human consumption, the current internal body temperature of Colin Kaepernick, elves, the latest on how NFL players are the only humans to ever get concussions, Kardashians, or Roger Goodell’s love of fine wine and cheese?”

Smokin’ Jay: “DOOONNN’T CAAARE!”

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eclipse! eh, or not

This eclipse thing was apparently a big deal. Folks cashed in their retirement savings to fly to a city within the path of the total obscuration. Only to pray to their deity of choice that there weren’t thunderstorms.

I on the other hand had a plane to catch back home for work. So I assumed I’d be airborne when the eclipse actually occurred. We get aboard the aircraft and the stewardess goes through the typical excruciatingly long six minute United introduction which includes instructions on air travel, United ads, and directions on how to construct your own log cabin. After she’s done, the captain actually leaves the cockpit and stands in front of first class to address the whole plane.

He basically says all will be well, both he and the copilot have eclipse glasses (which he shows us), and that the aircraft is rated as “100% capable of solar eclipse flight”. This got many chuckles from the passengers who weren’t mind melded with their smartphones. I didn’t laugh though, because I know what solar flares can do (in theory) to a fly-by-wire aircraft. Can a solar eclipse enhance a solar flare? I have no idea. But I had a lot of beer and coffee in the 12 hours prior to this flight, so in that psyche anything is possible. Even elves. So many elves in the forest. Run!

So based on my understanding of how the eclipse was supposed to play out, and the pilot’s comments, you would think the eclipse would have happened while we were aloft, right? Nope. First off, I was right side center seat. The guy on the window was a 300 pound former NFL headhunter with a Kansas City barbeque shirt. He played freecell for a half hour then fell asleep. All without ever opening his window shade. So I kind of had to peer around other windows. Did the sun darken? Eh, maybe, I wasn’t sure. But by the time I’d landed on the east coast I’d concluded that the eclipse was over. I was ready to get on with my day.

Then they’ve got CNN [sigh] on at the baggage claim and it shows the eclipse just beginning in Oregon. So I’m wondering if I traveled back in time or what. Nope, no eclipse while in flight. It seems the United pilot executed the verbal equivalent of a placebo. I wonder if the United corporate hacks told him to do it? Either way, it was entirely unnecessary because nothing actually happened while we were in the air.

So I get my car back from the haunted, overpriced airport parking garage and go pick up the dogs. Every once and a while I glance up at the sky to see if the sun has changed. Yes, I broke the dreaded rules. I looked at the bare sun with mine own eyes. Because nobody ever does this at the beach or on a regular basis. But the nannies of modern society would have you believe up to yesterday, that if you looked at the eclipse with bare eyes for three seconds your eyes would burst into flames and three kittens you did not know would die horribly.

Anyways, eventually I got home with the dogs and began to unpack, occasionally looking outside. Nothing ever happened. Did it get a little darker out? Maybe, or was that because of the scattered clouds? Who knows? I’m out there to get the mail and my neighbor Jimmy (who’s a little slow, but is a real nice guy) is like, “Hey [insert degenerate blog author name here], where is the eclipse?”

I told him I had no idea, that it was a bust, and that I’d given up. And so it was. I had 80-85% obscuration of the sun where I live, or so the Internets told me. But without eclipse glasses the sun is too bright to be able to see much of it at all. Go get eclipse glasses? Eh, maybe. But what’s the fun of looking at this through special darkened glasses. I might as well observe astronomy through a telescope with a lens made of aluminum foil.

Oh well, what a waste, whatever. I’ve developed one very specific conclusion from my only eclipse experience. It’s either total eclipse or bust. Anything less than 100% is like drinking non-alcoholic beer or driving below the speed limit. I have no idea when the next American solar eclipse is. Maybe I’ll be a bleached skeleton before it occurs? But if it does, and I care enough, I’d rather fly somewhere to see 100%. And pray to my deity of choice that there weren’t thunderstorms.

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Yep, didn’t see that.

San Diego – Cuyamaca Rancho Park

On travel for work?  Got that rare day off?  Get outside, run.  Run away before they change their minds.  They know where you live, it’s how they pay you.  Run!

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Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, about a hour or so east of San Diego depending on whether you exceed the posted speed limit.  The park itself is massive and you could spend weeks there without seeing it all.  I had a day.

I did no research other than just to drive to the park.  The state highway snakes through it and you can get off at various campgrounds, trails, etc.

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Stonewall Peak.  One of the greatest feelings on the planet is to see a mountain and you’re like, “I want to climb that.”  So you do.  A campground sits at the base, you can park there for ten bucks or so with the park rangers.  It’s two miles up and two miles down.  It’s not too difficult if you regularly hike.  I did some other shorter hikes off the highway, but this was the longest and best part.

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The climb for the most part is a series of switchback trails carved into the side of the mountain.

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After a while you get the creepy idea that this place burned in the past.  Turns out I was right.

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In 2003 a lost hiker lit a signal fire in Cuyamaca Rancho and started one of the largest wildfires in California history, which is saying something.  Nearly the entire park burned including just about every long growth tree.

Once upon a time, the firefighters of the American West were dedicated to putting out every fire no matter how natural, no matter where it was.  This was a mistake.  It allowed decades worth of growth to accumulate into the forests.  Nature needs fire.

A forest of the West needs to burn as part of the natural progression of its ecosystem.  It cleans out brush, certain species of plant need the flames to reproduce, etc, etc.  By putting out every fire folks got in the way of this.

So when Cuyamaca Rancho burned for the first time in like five decades.  It burned hot and massive.  If you have a wildfire once every ten years or so, the ecosystem can recover.  That’s the way it’s meant to be.

But it seems when it burns once in a century, that the system can’t recover.  They’ve waited for Cuyamaca Rancho to regrow for these near 15 years and it’s become clear that some species aren’t coming back.  They were wiped out by the intensity of the flames.  So the park service has begun replanting by hand instead.

When you hear people talk about allowing natural wildfires pay attention.  This stuff is important.  It’s also why some folks who build brand new swanky houses up in the forests and then demand the state protect them are in many cases actually doing their surrounding forests genuine harm.

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Stonewall Peak and the nearby abandoned mine were named after Jackson by former Confederate veterans who’d come out West after the war.  What a tale some of those lives must have been.

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Immune to fire.

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At the summit.  The folks who put this up here were the real deal.  They got to the top before proper trails, before online park maps, and so on.

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Just one hill among many.  So much else to see.

lawmakers reach bipartisan agreement to reform health care

Lawmakers announced in a remarkable joint statement from the steps of the Capitol that an agreement was reached to reform the nation’s health care system. A prepared statement read by both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) presented the initial details of a bill which would significantly alter the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) joined their Senate counterparts but did not address reporters until after the initial briefing. “It was a tough negotiation, neither of us really got what we wanted,” said Ryan, “but I’m confident we’ve arrived at the best possible solution for the country.” Exact details and the bill’s specifics will be released later this week.

Narrating several critical all night discussions deep within the Congressional offices, Pelosi outlined a bitter but ultimately productive process. “It got pretty heated in there, sometimes we weren’t sure if we’d pull it off. But I’m pleased we stuck with it. This bill will help Americans.” Pelosi was also pleased that the new so called ‘American Health Care Bill’ meant the Republican leadership would pull back their bill to repeal Obamacare.

From the White House, President Donald Trump released several Twitter statements expressing his praise for the joint effort:

“So glad those folks got it done! #fullofwin”

“Democrats wrote Obamacare alone, shoved it through. Republicans wrote their repeal alone, tried to shove it through. No more!”

“This is a big fucking deal. #America”

The gravity of the issue at hand is said to have compelled Senate and House leadership to carefully craft a series of key working groups that ultimately lead to the compromise. “We felt that with a topic that impacts 20 percent of the American economy, and literally effects the beating hearts of 300 million Americans that we needed to do it right, and do it right now,” said McConnell, clapping Schumer on the shoulder, “this guy and I are getting wrecked off the same whiskey bottle tonight.”

Visiting Washington DC with his family, Milwaukee native Paul Martinez expressed surprised delight, “This is why we brought the kids to DC, to see how special democracy is. We had no idea this would happen today though,” chuckled Martinez. “Totally,” stated his wife Nicole, “we were just hanging out by the Reflecting Pool and my sister texted me that we had to see this speech. We loved it! This is why we elect them to serve us out here.”

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