NIAGARA FALLS — I have lived my entire life in Western New York. I probably saw Niagara Falls for the first time as an infant. (Can’t say I recall.) It was the site of family day trips, class field trips (who remembers The Turtle?) and extended-family weekends around Christmastime. (I miss the Festival of Lights.)
But until I was 27, and a reporter working for the Niagara Gazette, I never went on the Maid of the Mist.
I’m not entirely sure why. A combination of familiarity breeding apathy, I suppose, and a half-subconscious thought that it was something only tourists did. By the time I finally donned one of the familiar ponchos and stepped on board, I was working, following Travel Channel (I think) personnel around for the day, and not really paying attention to the trip as something that was really very remarkable.
We do that here. (Actually, I’m sure people do it everywhere, but I can only refer to Western New York.) We have a wonder of the world in our veritable backyard, and we think, “Eh. It’s a tourist thing.”
We forget, so often, that being a tourist can be fun — even, or especially, when it’s in your own backyard.
I was reminded of that this July when my family visited Old Falls Street for a Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra concert. Jim was dancing away; Sam became antsy, so I told him I had to show him something and we set off on a walk ... one that ended with his very first sight of the falls.
His eyes were the size of silver dollars. He pressed his forehead against the railing and stared at this “really big waterfall!” he hadn’t really expected steps away from a familiar city ... then his eyes, if possible, got even larger.