Sunday, August 19, 2012

Dear Niagara Falls Gift Shops

I knew this wasn't going to be like Wonderfalls.  I will point that out right now.  There would be no painfully cute Caroline Dhavernas sulking behind the counter, and no melty faced lion cracking wise and giving out sage advice.  I am not completely delusional.  The only thing I expect is for you to have chintzy doodads and sparkly baubles that cost just enough that we know it a souvenier, but not enough that we won't buy it.  I expected to find something I could give to people, or at very least thrust into their faces and proclaim with gusto that I indeed saw water dropping at an alarming rate and from an awe inspiring height.  What I failed to take into account was that the 8 hour drive to get to Niagara had turned me into a crazy person that forgets that everyone and everything is out to try to prove me wrong.

Things started innocently enough.  My friend Kentucky Jim and I enjoyed some fine John Hay cigars while looking at the Falls.  We marveled at nature, pondered life's big questions, and I almost stepped on a small Asian child that wandered into my "You are too small and I cannot see you down there" radius like so many squirrels and sandcastles have done before it.  As the child's mother either thanked me for sparing her child, or put a pox upon my family for generations to come, Kentucky Jim used his keen powers of observation to notice the giant "Gift Shop" sign roughly twelve feet away, and dragged me inside.

As previously stated, I know souveniers are overpriced.  Apparently, since this particular gift shop overlooks the actual Falls, exactly $43 dollars is added to every item, either for some symbolic reason, or because at that price the owners can afford to buy lawyers whenever they decide to track and hunt homeless people for sport.  As I had a small tantrum over a $19 bottle maple syrup that could only be assuaged with a $4 piece of maple fudge, we decided to find a gift shop further from the Falls and hopefully cheaper.

We returned to my car and looked up "gift shop" in the GPS.  Choosing the most promising name, we drove three miles through a godless wasteland to find that there was no gift shop at that address, only a man vigorously peeing onto an abandoned building.  We crossed back to the other side of Niagara to find yet another closed shop.  Our third try found a shop roughly the size of a shack, and about as hospitable, and the fourth was a gas station.

We decided at this point to stop for dinner at a Polish restaurant I had read about, only to find out that when we got there, the street in front of it was ripped apart, and the restaurant had closed at 2PM, since that is when things close in Mad Max Waterfalls town.  As we wept at the absurdity in the car, we saw a miraculous sign.  "Niagara Falls Daredevil Museum- Free Admission.  TShirts, Souveniers, Film".  Finally, our prayers had been answered.  We could buy off the envy of our loved ones that did not come on the trip.

We were not careful what we wished for, which become abundantly clear upon entering the shop.  We were greeted with the smells of chlorine and mildew as we scanned the lifevests, barrels, and jetskis that people had ridden to their deaths or glory down the Falls.  Yes, the gifts were much more modestly priced than the other shop, however, most were apparently cobbled together by a dyslexic madman.  The "Nigra Falls" mugs were tempting, as were the roughly 6,000 different photos of daredevil Nik Wallenda that were for sale.  The already threadbare shirts were less tempting, and I decided to leave as I noticed the mostly Russian language tourist DVD's that lined the walls. 

Please find some happy middle ground for your shops where I am not spending $20 for a pint glass or $40 for a tshirt, and also not shopping in a museum of death and lunacy.  You could take a business lesson from Tiffany's Cabaret and Steakhouse in nearby Buffalo.  Their gift shop was amply stocked with reasonable items, the beef tip was tender and a perfect balance between salty and savory, and Amber Lynne was a very talented dancer, and I hope that dental school goes well for her. 

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