Day 45: Wednesday 26th April
I just want to include a little shout-out to one of the fallen soldiers of this trip – Toronto. When planning the trip we had intended to actually see a little of Toronto (although we knew it wouldn’t be much as we were only staying for one night), but it should have been enough to warrant inclusion in the blog. But alas – due to arriving so late the day before and having to get up so early the next morning, Toronto ended up just becoming an overnight stop on the way to Niagara Falls. We didn’t see any of the city apart from what we saw on the drive in (when it was already dark), and the inside of Gwynnie’s friend’s house. So we had to cut our losses and regretfully leave Toronto for another trip.
Now that the commiserations are over with – after breakfast with Gwynnie’s friends in Toronto, we headed on to Niagara Falls, only about an hour and a half drive away (that’s a very short drive in case you were wondering, Europeans.) (Gwynnie: Google maps actually directed us to a place called “free parking Niagara Falls”, which is a 15-20 minute walk from the actual falls, but if you don’t mind walking then there’s a tip for you.)
The Niagara Falls straddle the border between Ontario in Canada and New York state in the US. They are actually comprised of three waterfalls – the American Falls, Horseshoe Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls. The falls can be viewed from either the American or the Canadian side, but we had heard that the Canadian side offered a much better view, so we were pleased to be viewing them from the better side.
My friend Theo, who I met on my Master’s course in London a couple of years ago, was kind enough to drive all the way up to meet us from his home in New York state, so we had a guide for our few hours at the Falls.
I had heard that the Niagara Falls are flanked by casinos and ugly hotels, but even so I wasn’t quite prepared for the nightmarish monstrosity that is the town of Niagara Falls, Ontario. (Gwynnie: it’s basically Blackpool – horrendously tacky, and wherever you turn, there are arcades, rides, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, probably an aquarium or two (because the USA loves aquariums). I realised that people must make weekend trips, or longer, out of seeing the Falls.)
Once we got to the actual Falls themselves, they weren’t as big as I imagined. But I was expecting them not to be as big as I imagined, so I wasn’t really disappointed – the Niagara Falls are one of those things I’ve heard about and dreamed about going to since childhood, and you can bet that if you saw pictures of something as a child, it’s never going to be as impressive as you imagined if you go as an adult.
In fairness, we were pretty far away which made them look smaller, so we decided to go on a boat tour so we could get a bit closer to the action and see if they looked more impressive close-up. (Gwynnie: or you might say we decided to “splash out” on a boat tour [water pun].) After parting with around 30 Canadian dollars, we were given some red ponchos which we dutifully donned, and just in time, we made it onto a boat which was about to leave. (Gwynnie: you get to keep the poncho forever!)
It was cool seeing the Falls close up and they did, of course, look much bigger, but it was far too wet to take any good photographs and once you got too close you were pretty much just being rained on (we began to see the reason for the ponchos), and the Falls themselves were shrouded in mist and spray so you couldn’t really see them. (Gwynnie: I definitely stood there at one point, water flying into my face, spray everywhere, laughing at how I had just paid around 30 CAD to get soaked and barely see the Falls. But it was fun!)
After the boat ride we thought about walking across the bridge to the other side, but apparently you need your passport for that (somehow this hadn’t occurred to me, but funnily enough you can’t just wander over from the Canadian side to the American side without going through border control which is actually on the bridge) and I had left mine in the car. So instead we walked to get a closer look at the Horseshoe Falls, which are the biggest of the three waterfalls – and just as we did the sun came out so we got some nice photos 🙂
I’m very glad I got to see the Niagara Falls and finally put a childhood dream of mine to rest, but I think the Niagara Falls are probably in the same category as Disneyland – it’s best to go when you’re young.
We parted ways with Theo, and after stopping at an Italian bakery to buy some bread rolls we hit the road again and drove on to Dearborn, Michigan. We expected to get a grilling re-entering the US but actually they didn’t ask us very much – however they did charge us $5 for the privilege of re-entering their country, cheeky buggers! They also warned us that we were cutting it very fine with our return flight (we were leaving on day 89 of our maximum 90-day allotted period) and that if our flight was delayed or we missed it and accidentally overstayed our 90 days, we could potentially be banned from ever entering the US again. I later found a newspaper article about a guy from Australia who had overstayed his visa by one hour and was locked up, so this shit is real.
Anyway, on we drove to Dearborn. I only knew one thing about Dearborn – Sixto Rodriguez, the musician who the smash hit documentary Sugar Man is about, is from there. Someone had also told us that Dearborn has the biggest population of Muslims of any city in the US, therefore it was the ideal place to get some delicious Middle Eastern food. Hilariously, I found this article which says that Dearborn has garnered a reputation as being “the home of Sharia law in America” according to some far-right leaning Republicans, due to its relatively high Muslim and Arab population. Well, we went there, and I can’t say that I saw any Sharia law being enacted, but there were women in headscarves so I can see how the poor dears got confused. Seeing all the women in hijab, the Middle Eastern restaurants, and Arabic writing made the place feel strangely familiar to me because it reminded me of being back in Holloway, where I lived for the two years I was based in London.
Gwynnie was terrified of going to Detroit because she was convinced she was going to get murdered, but I had managed to convince her that Dearborn isn’t really Detroit (psych! It is! Soz Gwynnie. Well, it’s part of the Detroit metropolitan area, so it’s as much Detroit as the metropolitan areas of London are part of London, depending on where you fall on that.) Anyway, Gwynnie got a bit nervous as we drove into Dearborn and was convinced I had tricked her and we were going to end up accidentally driving through Detroit and getting shot at. I think it probably did little to assuage her fears when we drove up to the America’s Best Value Inn we were heading for and saw this car in the parking lot (and the silver one behind it):
It probably also didn’t help much when we checked into the motel, and the first room we were given didn’t have working lights, but did have a smoke alarm which beeped enragingly about once every three seconds due to low batteries. There was also a distinct smell of weed floating around in the corridor and the sound of a party happening a few doors away. I can’t actually remember the full list of complaints we had, but safe to say we politely asked to move to another room. The second room we were given didn’t have a smoke alarm at all as it had been ripped out of the ceiling, but we decided that this was better than one that beeps every three seconds and we’d take the risk to our lives over that any day. (We also weren’t convinced that any of the other rooms would be much better and didn’t want to spend our whole evening swapping rooms.) I was pretty pleased that we were finally staying in one of those grotty motels like in the movies, where the wallpaper is peeling and you half-expect to see a cockroach crawling up the wall as you drift off to sleep.
Safely ensconced in our grotty motel room, we set about ordering Middle Eastern food from a place called Sheeba. We picked it up on our way to one of the absolute highlights of our trip – the Ford drive-in movie theatre! After looking up drive-ins in Atlanta we were glad to finally find one with good reviews (e.g. where nobody had been murdered). We grabbed our takeaway and ate it in the car while watching the movies. We sadly realised that the restaurant had forgotten to include one of the things we ordered, but it was too late and we were still pretty full after what we had – however, we called them the next morning and they cooked the missing dish for us, meaning we had breakfast!
I’m just going to wax lyrical about the dying breed that is the drive-in movie theatre for a moment. Drive-in movie theatres are MAGICAL! You get to drive in, put your feet up, bring your own food and drink, talk as loudly as you like through the movie, and yell at the screen – all the things you can’t do in a regular cinema. Plus, they are great value for money – we paid about $10 each and got to see TWO movies, which is actually how they usually do things at drive-ins for some reason, it’s usually or perhaps even always a double bill. I have no idea why America has consigned drive-in movie theatres to the realm of ’50s nostalgia. If I lived near one I would go all the time!
The only disadvantages are that because it’s outside, a) you can’t see the screen if it’s still light outside (it got dark probably within about 15 minutes of the first film starting though), and b) the sound isn’t great. You have two options for listening to the movie – either you can listen through the speakers which you park your car next to, or you tune your radio to the right channel (each screen has a different one) and listen through your car radio. Neither option is ideal because when we touched the speaker to try to move it, it broke and fell off, so we had to listen through our car radio, which either drained the battery if we left the ignition off, or used up fuel if we turned the ignition on. So we kind of switched back and forth to try and preserve some of both.
However, that being said – we loved the experience, and we thoroughly enjoyed eating our yummy Middle Eastern takeout food in the car while watching. Some people were sitting on their car roofs, and some had opened out the back of vans and gone all out with chairs and picnic tables and everything. There was a small food stand, and the adverts between movies clearly hadn’t been updated since the 1950s, which was adorable (and we definitely had some Grease moments):
The first movie was Fate of the Furious, the EIGHTH Fast and the Furious film. I was once forced to watch the seventh Fast and the Furious movie, and I can’t say I enjoyed this one very much more. Somewhat perversely, I find action movies really boring, even though the whole point of them is that they’re meant to be exciting. But because I get bored my attention wanders and then I find it hard to follow what’s going on, which means I get even more bored so it’s just an endless vicious cycle. Gwynnie fortunately felt pretty similarly to me, so we were able to talk through the movie (one of the great things about drive-ins! You couldn’t do that in a regular cinema without pissing someone off.)
The second movie was great though – it was Get Out, which if you haven’t seen it is this amazing horror movie about race in America. It’s really different from any horror movie I’ve seen before, and it’s full of dark and unexpected twists and turns – I would highly recommend seeing it. The male lead is actually played by a British actor from London (bit of weird London pride there), although you wouldn’t know it from his impeccable American accent, and the female lead is the actress who plays Marnie in Girls!
I was completely freaked out after seeing the movie (Gwynnie: and during – she was screaming and nearly broke my hand from clutching it so hard!), and also convinced that every white person in the world apart from myself is evil and not to be trusted, possibly even Gwynnie, which was scary as I was driving home and sharing a motel room with her. (Gwynnie: Oi! What?) But somehow I was able to fall asleep and I don’t remember having any nightmares.