“Why do people have to be this lonely? What’s the point of it all? Millions of people in this world, all of them yearning, looking to others to satisfy them, yet isolating themselves. Why? Was the earth put here just to nourish human loneliness?”
― Haruki Murakami, Sputnik Sweetheart
From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, February 19, 2003 – writing about something that happened more than twenty years before that:
I wasn’t prepared mentally for the cold or for the snow. We were right in the snow belt that forms from the lake effect in Buffalo and it freaked me out that when I’d walk along the road my feet would actually be above the cars due to the six foot deep snow that piled up there. The building where we worked was right next to the hotel, which was near the airport, and we didn’t get rental cars – which made it tough to find entertainment in the evening.
One night a small group of us – I was the only one from Dallas, but there were two women and a guy from Atlanta – and another guy from California – sitting around the hotel bar (the hotel bar was actually a Playboy Club – there’s a blast from the past) griping about the fact we didn’t get cars and had nowhere to go. We talked about how none of us had ever seen Niagara Falls and how it wasn’t very far away. At that point I actually had an idea, “Hey, wait, there’s five of us… somebody can take a shuttle over to the airport and rent a car for one day – we’ll split the cost. We all travel a lot and have car discounts – we could get a compact for thirty bucks or so – divided five ways… that’s pretty cheap.” Everyone brightened up and the guy from Atlanta volunteered to go get the car.
One problem was that by the time he was able to actually pick the thing up and drive back it was well after midnight. The other problem was that three was a pretty severe blizzard, even for Buffalo, swirling around that night. We were from Georgia, Texas, and California… what did we know.
We piled in and set off. We didn’t know where we were going and were forced to navigate with the car rental map through a swirling opaque mass of flakes. Somehow, we finally found Niagara Falls, New York – though it took a long time, maybe hours (my memory fails on some details).
“No, not the American side,” I said, “I want to go to the Canadian side!” With that comment our odyssey became international.
We reached the bridge sometime around three AM and I couldn’t help but notice that there was a good two feet of snow on the road and no tire tracks. We were the only ones crossing that night. Traction was good, however, so we headed on across. There was an interesting conversation with the border guard, “Where are you from?” “Well, I’m from Texas, they’re from Georgia…” that sort of thing. She didn’t approve of us being out in the weather, but I don’t think she wanted to hassle with us or get out of her little heated shack so we were allowed to go on. As we entered Canada the blizzard stopped and only a light few snowflakes continued to drift down.
The falls were incredibly beautiful. I had seen many photos of the falls of course, but they were all taken in the summer. I had no idea how it looked at this time of year. The American side was completely frozen into a wall of ice. On the Canadian side the water poured free into enormous fingers of ice pointing upward, thrusting against the power of the water. The river below was solid ice with a white layer of snow covering it. The most amazing thing was the famous whirlpool below the falls. It was invisible beneath the ice but a huge, perfectly round disk of ice was free and rotating slowly in the middle of the river. The whole scene was incredible and beautiful. You don’t see that much ice in Texas.
When we drove up the whole falls was lit with powerful spotlights, making them clearly visible in the dark. While we were watching they were switched off for the night. The falls became even more beautiful at that point. There was so much snow on the ground and the clouds were so low that the whole area became lit as clearly as daylight with that strange city snow-light you see in the winter. I was transfixed.
A few snowflakes still fell as a delicate counterpoint to the awesome power of the rushing water. Everything was quiet with that stillness that a thick layer of snow brings. Quiet except for the roaring of the falls. We had the whole place to ourselves – there were no other tourists or sightseers out at that time or in that weather.
We didn’t stay long – our faces began to freeze and we piled back into the rental and headed back. When we reached the bridge there were no tracks on our side and still a single set going the other way.
And today’s flash fiction:
from Reflex Fiction