3rd May 2008 – Niagara, NY to Watertown, NY

Niagra Falls Maid of the Mist Photo

We found a little bar called The Wagon Wheel the previous night. We had very little say in the matter really, since it was the only drinking establishment that we could find anywhere near our motel. From the outside it would be fair to say the dilapidated bunker-style building looked like the least inviting place ever, but it turned out to be only mildly uninviting once we were inside.

Against all the odds, we had a really good night. We got talking to the barman, a guy called Chris. He was a charismatic fellow, who had spent some time living in Aberdeen, so it was quite easy to see how he coped with living in a dump like Niagara. If you replace the waterfall with a massive alcohol problem then you’re pretty much talking about the same place.

We met various other people during the night, including four 40-something ladies, the most memorable of whom had a moustache. Mass managed to cop off with the prettiest of them, and possibly the slimmest too (she was only about 20 stone), although I think deep down he was a bit disappointed he didn’t get to make out with the one with the moustache.

At some point during the evening a girl took over from Chris behind the bar and I got talking to her. She was a young single mother and complained about how much she hated New York State and how she wanted to leave, but couldn’t. When I asked why, she explained that state law stipulates that if a mother wishes to leave the state, she has to have the consent of the father of her children to do so, and her ex-partner would not give his permission!

The beer was incredibly cheap at $1.25 a pint, which seemed a good enough reason to drink for 8 hours solid, and when we weren’t drinking, we were playing pool. We love playing pool in the States because the pockets on the tables are so huge that it can make even average players look great. On an American table you can take a shot that wouldn’t get within an inch of the pocket on a UK table and it will just drop straight in without even rattling the jaws.

Both Mass and I are reasonably decent so when we play on an American table the games invariably tend to be short (i.e. whoever pots the first ball will win). But it’s even better to play against the locals because they are generally utter garbage, so much so, that I am prepared to stick my neck on the line and say it’s practically impossible to lose a game of pool to an American, even if you are really drunk. They are always massively impressed when they get 8-balled, and assume that you’re a serious hustler from the European pro-leagues.

Hung over, we just about woke up before check-out time and drove back to the falls, where we paid an unnecessarily high fee to climb aboard the Maid of the Mist boat and wear horrible blue plastic macs to keep us from getting drenched.

Fortunately, after the disappointment of the town itself, Niagara Falls lived up to expectations. They were really spectacular, and actually comprise of three falls, which straddle the border of New York State and Ontario in Canada. The water crashes down from a height of 50 metres, and while this is not massively high, it is the rate at which the water falls that’s key: almost 4 million cubic feet per minute on average.

Standing there on the deck getting covered in spray and listening to the thunderous sound of the water cascading down all around provided a true feeling of the immense power of the falls. It was also a surprisingly good cure for the brutal hangover I had. Despite the horribly touristy nature of the whole thing, it’s hard not to be impressed when you get so close to such a grand natural spectacle.

Once we had paid homage to the falls we got the hell out of town, and spent the rest of the day driving back along America’s most boring road in drizzly conditions, passing by part of Lake Ontario on our left, and then heading north up I-81. We finally reached a place named Watertown, where we found a motel to for the night and agreed to pay $80 for the privilege of staying in this utter hole of a town.

Watertown has a population in the region of 27,000 and lies just 30 miles or so from the Canadian border. Its big claim to fame is that it is the birthplace of the safety pin. That ought to tell you where this place lies in the list of the world’s shittiest towns. There’s nothing more I really want to write about Watertown, so I won’t, but I was beginning to wonder if it might not be such a bad idea to do a bit of research before deciding which town to stay in next.

In the evening we went to Ruby Tuesday for food and beer. I had the best salad of all time, although you’d be hard pushed to really classify it as a salad given that it contained bacon, chicken and cheese. Mass had a rather tasty-looking steak. The bar staff were very attractive. Happy days. Turns out that Watertown did have something good to offer after all.

Seriously, don’t go there. There are Ruby Tuesday restaurants and hot bar staff in loads of other places too.

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.