Friday, July 27, 2007

It Ain't Necessarily So

It's been quite a month, this July, in the "city" of Niagara Falls, NY, where I live. Two of America's three morning news shows have stopped by the falls to visit, and, by implication, endorse the Falls as a cool vacation stop once again. (Actually, the Falls never stopped being cool. We just lost our ability to appreciate them)

But, all in all, I'm betting some of the "locals" besides myself feel a little guilty about the whole thing. I mean, having grown up around here, we know the Dark Secrets that the Chamber of Commerce tries to keep away from potential visitors:

1. / The View is Better on the Canadian Side. Don't get me wrong. There are some spectacular sights to see on the American side of the Falls, beginning with the park that surrounds it. The Park, or the Reserve, as long-time residents call it, was the first state park established in the United States. Goat Island and its smaller neighbor, Three Sisters Island, are developed enough to make exploring them safe, but not so much that the experience of Being In Nature is lost. And there is no better place to experience the raw power of the mighty Niagara than Prospect Point, the concrete platform shaking with the water's force, the spray from the Falls covering you. But, for those picture postcard images that people love to send home to Loved Ones, the view is better on the Canadian side. To our credit, we residents are usually honest enough to admit this simple fact. Of course, we didn't figure this out just recently. Almost as soon as good roads [and railroads] made visiting the area easy for most of the nation, tourists figured out that the view was...well, you know what's coming next. In fact, until fairly recently, most of the tourism push was on the Canadian side, while in the U-S, companies attracted by the cheap and plentiful hydroelectricity made parts of the city so industrialized [and polluted] that the American side was once famously called, "the witch's end of Fairyland".

2. / With The Best View Comes The Best Attractions. This one comes out of another of those Dark Secrets we spoke of earlier: after about thirty seconds, you've probably seen everything Niagara Falls is going to do. Yeah, they're illuminated by colored spotlights in the evening, and during the Summer (High Tourist Season), there are frequent fireworks displays. But the Falls themselves are water running at a high velocity, before dropping of the edge of a cliff into the [obviously-named] Lower Niagara River. That's it. It doesn't change. This leads to a question: now what do we do? Because the best views of the Falls have always been on the Canadian side, the area around the Canadian Falls has always been a tourist magnet. Promoters and developers, sensing (or seeing) a crowd, were quick to set up attractions to give tourists something to do after seeing the mighty Niagara. With a nearly 150-year head start, the American side is playing an unwinable game of "catch-up". (Most of the major tourist attractions in Niagara Falls, Canada are on, or near, Clifton Hill. The land on this roughly one-block street is divided and sub-divided so as to get the maximum number of attractions, shops, and restaurants into the smallest physical space possible. I don't know if this is still the case, but at least into the 1970's Clifton Hill was private land, with its two owners allowing an "easement" for a street and sidewalks to be built. One side, not surprisingly, was owned by an accountant. The other was the property of a man who had made his fortune when he discovered the largest gold mine in Canada. Seeing Clifton Hill on a busy Summer day, you realize he also found the second-largest gold mine in Canada.)

3. / When Three Casinos Operate Within Five Miles Of One Another, No One Wins But The Owners. This area might be, well, "over-casinoed". There are two gambling [or to use the current industry buzz-word, "gaming"] halls on the Canadian side of the Falls, and one on the American side. (I'm not going to get into a comparison of one casino versus another. I don't spend much time in them. But I will say this; if you smoke, and enjoy a complementary cocktail or two with your gaming, visit the American casino. Since it's operated by an Indian tribe, the land it sits on is considered as belonging to the tribe, and thus is not subject to New York State or Canadian law, like the one that forbids smoking in all enclosed public locations. Just a tip...) For what it's worth, my point is this: too many places to go means no one place is making huge money. It also means more and more special programs to get gamblers...sorry, gamers, to spend their money at your gaming hall. Well, hey, America [or for that matter, Canada] can never have too many gambling-addicted folks dropping their last coins into a town's economy in a last-ditch attempt to keep that locale's head above water. Right?

(By the way, I don't have any moral objection to gambling. Everybody has a certain amount of disposable income to use as s/he sees fit. I spend mine on books and music. And I'm rather proud of the fact that, to date, I've yet to blow my entire paycheck in a book or record store. Although I've been tempted...)

And don't even get me started on the non-user-friendly tourism system on the American side. I'll just say that vital resources for the tourist are either located in the wrong place, or, more usually, non-existent. (Unfortunately, there are also reports that one or more of the several police forces that patrol in Niagara Falls, NY have appeared to make comments or taken action against visitors that seemed to be racially-driven. Again, just a tip.)

Look, we need your tourist dollars. Big Industry left us raped and abandoned by the roadside. So please come to Niagara Falls, NY. But understand that, to see the Falls at their best, you'll have to cross the border [It's really not as complicated as the Federal Government wants to make it, so this may be a good time to come a-callin'].If you bring kids, or if you enjoy the attraction side of touring, Clifton Hill [on the Canadian side] is your best bet. If you happen to be a person of color, we've got the prejudice you probably go on vacation to avoid [you can criticise us later]. But we must be a great tourist site. After all, two of America's three morning news shows have visited this month alone. Right? Am I right?

-Mike Riley

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Smokin' OP's

Sometimes the best thing about the Blogosphere isn't the words the Blogger puts out there, but what s/he finds on Other Peoples' Blogs. Case in point: the excellent site - (Yes, the savy out there are saying, it's very nice, but IT'S NOT A BLOG! Get over it...) The Pinky Show is a series of low-tech presentations, narrated by a small black-and-white cartoon cat named Pinky. It's a fascinating collection of perusals of current and historical culture. For instance, a consideration of the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition as the first flowering of Imperialist Culture in the U-S. Or a discussion of the battle between Direct and Alternating Current as the means of bringing electricity into American homes [this one, because of a demonstration by Direct Current's promoter, is entitled "Thomas Edison Hates Cats"]. No, it's not the history you learned in school [unless you had a very progressive school], but it's educational to the max. Worth a look...

In the "annoyingly cute, but hilarious" division, there's Cats in funny pictures with cute captions usually make me chortle beyond control, and this site is no exception. (Cats seem to be this post's theme. So what?)

Nothing profound here. Just a couple of stops in One Blogger's Universe...

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Give Life [in aid of the BlogCatalog Community Organ Donation Awareness Campaign]

As I write this, it's just after 1 AM in Western New York. I don't know for sure where, or whom, or why, but someone is desperately awaiting a transplant. Perhaps, as was the case with an occasional colleague of mine, they will die without a kidney transplant. Maybe the gift of a cornea will restore their sight. A heart or lung may keep a third person alive, to be a part of their family.

I have a terrible confession to make: I am not currently an organ donor. I don't know why. I guess because my personal health was so bad, I believed that I literally had nothing to offer. After examining some of the information posted at, I realized that, despite personal health issues, my organs may still be usable for transplant. Even if they aren't, it's likely my blood can be used to help save some one's life [I have been a blood donor since late last year. I'd have started that sooner, but, owing to bad information and a childhood illness, I didn't think I was eligible.

In case you're wondering, I'm alibiing for myself because I feel rather guilty about not being an organ/tissue donor. After all, in most of the US, it's not very hard to be one; usually, a simple notation on your driver's license is enough [if you do that, though, MAKE SURE YOUR HEALTH PROXY AND FAMILY ARE AWARE OF YOUR WISHES!

The Woman I Love is an organ/tissue donor. People very close to you probably are as well. I'm going to be one, as soon as I can make the necessary arrangements. Why? You could ask any one of the nearly ninety-seven thousand people in America who are awaiting transplant donors tonight. Any reason they'd give to explain why they wanted to receive a transplant would be better than anything I could write.

Here in the United States, the previously mentioned site is a good clearing house of information. If you happen to live here in Western New York, check out, the home site of Upstate New York Transplant Services. If you live elsewhere in the world, please investigate organ/tissue transplant donation sites in your country. (I was shocked to learn that, in some parts of the world, people are killed for their organs! Thank God we are in a place where such matters are the stuff of urban legends).

I wish I could have made this a better, or perhaps more compelling, presentation. If you are looking for a few examples of why exactly organ/tissue donation is so vitally important, check out post haste. There are links to several articles on this topic, most of which I suspect are better than this. But forgive my weak words. Find the strength within yourself and give life!