2nd May 2008 – Albany, NY to Niagara, NY

Niagra Falls Picture

In Albany we were staying at a place called America’s Best Value Inn, where we enjoyed a complimentary continental breakfast, and the owner, a little Indian chap originally from San Antonio, Texas, kindly let us use his personal computer to check our emails and the sport results from back home.

We then jumped in the car and took the I-90 west across New York State towards Niagara. The I-90 is actually the longest interstate highway in the whole of the U.S. at over 3,000 miles long, and it passes through 13 states. In contrast to our drive the previous day, this was one of the most boring journeys one could ever imagine. Nearly 300 miles of blandness was only broken up by our lunch stop at Subway in Nowheretown.

Eventually we reached our destination, and what a surprise we were in for when we arrived in the world famous Niagara. We rolled into town expecting a glitzy, glamorous and exciting place, welcoming all the millions of tourists who flock there every year to see the majestic falls.

As we drove through the outskirts of the town, we were soon overcome by the suspicion that we had in fact taken a wrong turn to Slumsville, USA. Cheap, run-down motel after motel and factories spewing out pollution into the grey sky were what we were greeted with, and it was quite a shock to the system.

We headed for downtown Niagara looking for the more expensive hotels and perhaps a little more in the way of attractions, and found ourselves travelling along potholed streets, past ramshackle buildings with cars up on bricks in the driveways. We locked our doors and I put my foot down on the accelerator as we passed junkies and gang members toting semi-automatic weapons, only slowing down briefly to admire the cheap, rough-looking, drug-addicted hookers.

The downtown hotels did turn out to be a little more upmarket, but unfortunately this meant that they were also way out of our price range. We managed to find the Niagara Falls car park and got out to stretch our legs and take a few photos and wave to Canada on the other side of the river.

It had been a long day of driving and we needed somewhere to stay, but downtown accommodation was too expensive. This left one realistic choice, and it was one we were far from happy about. We jumped back in the car and returned to the cheaper motels we had seen earlier on the edge of town, finally taking a chance on a place called Swiss Cottage Inn, which really should have been renamed “Swiss Cottage Slum”. The place was good enough for us though, and it was run by a nice Jewish woman who didn’t look like she wanted to kill us.

Niagara had probed to be a genuinely unpleasant place but we had driven all this way and it would be a shame not to properly experience the Falls before leaving, so we decided that we would venture back the following day to do the touristy thing: a trip up the river on the Maid of the Mist boat. After that, we would get the hell out of town and never come back.

It was a fairly easy decision to reach in all fairness.

Then we went out drinking …

Mark Jackman is one half of the Jackman Brothers, who have written a trilogy of humour books set in the fictional town of Old Liston. He has also written a number of travel diaries, including the Mass and Peahead series about his road trips through America with his buddy Mass.