November 1, 2012 – Thursday
We started a bit later this morning after an extended night of restful sleep. Compared with the apartment in New York City, the hotel room was a lot nicer.
The night before when I was picking up our Chinese food, I saw a Tim Hortons. Being the Tim Hortons fanatic that I am (Can you blame me? None exist in either SF or HK), I had to have breakfast there.
With the remnants of Sandy still bringing rain and wet to the region, I wanted to improve my visibility when driving. On the way to Cortland, I noticed that the rain on the windshield was not beading, and rain on the side mirrors and windows impaired my visibility. From my experience taking care of my Acura, I know that there are products out there that can repel water, and just as luck would have it there was an Advance Auto Parts across the street. I bought a bottle of Rain-X (I actually prefer Stoner, but they didn’t have it), sprayed it on, and for the rest of the road trip rain was no longer an issue.
With that taken care of, we were on our way. When we mapped our route earlier, Google Maps suggested going through Syracuse, which didn’t make sense to me since it was slightly in the opposite direction. Fortunately, it’s quite easy to drag the route to a different road if the first one is not to your liking. Instead of heading northeast on Interstate 81, I chose to go northwest on NY 41. In hindsight, it was a great decision because we ended up driving on smaller country roads and passing through smaller towns and villages, something that wouldn’t have happened on the interstate.
Just outside Cortland is the village of Homer. This is old America, going back all the way to the American Revolution. Pretty amazing. Even more so, it’s larger than San Francisco in land area, but has over a hundred times less people.
As we went further up highway 41, we encountered fewer and fewer cars. Pretty soon, it was just us on the road, and we drove relatively slowly so we could take in the sights (the roads were wet, after all). After a while, I noticed a huge, orange truck bearing down on us – it reminded me of a Caltrans truck, and it was probably the New York equivalent. We were driving slowly and enjoying ourselves, and this truck was in a hurry. It got stressful after a few miles and I couldn’t wait to find a turnout to let it pass. When I saw a 3-way intersection approaching, I quickly signaled left and made the turn, and the truck whizzed by with a cloud of kicked-up water droplets flailing around behind it.
A few minutes later, we passed through the town of Scott. After that, it was mostly farmland and random houses here and there.
It was dull, it was dreary, and it rained, but it all added to the experience. I had always enjoyed driving in the rain, listening to it hit the windshield and roof while I’m inside the car, staying warm and dry, and now I was doing it while exploring the New York countryside. Less than two weeks ago, I was doing the same thing in Scotland. Crazy.
The thing about driving in the countryside, though, is the lack of rest areas. Fortunately, the drive from Cortland to Niagara is pretty short, and in between there are towns and villages. We were driving through the historic district of Skaneateles when we saw a sign for a public bathroom. It’s not often that you see a sign for the bathroom when you really are in need of one, and we took advantage. Having been in the warm confines of the car, the moment I stepped out I was quickly reminded of what time of year it was and put on my jacket and gloves.
Back on the road, we headed west and passed through Auburn before merging onto Interstate 90 near Waterloo. This was our first time traveling on I-90, and we would travel on it a few more times before the end of our trip. For now, we stayed on until our next stop, the Ontario Travel Plaza. It was here that I encountered the pinball machine from my first job for the first time in nearly 17 years. It was pretty unbelievable. I hurriedly finished my McDonald’s lunch so I could go play.
The first thing we saw after we entered our hotel room was the view of Niagara Falls. We must have spent at least half an hour standing at the window looking at it, photographing it. It was something JC had always wanted to see, and something I hadn’t seen in over a decade. The window itself could not be opened, but underneath it was some sort of vent. Since the room had air conditioning, we surmised that the vent was not an air vent, but a sound vent so that guests could hear the rush of the waterfall.
Night was approaching so we stopped marveling from our room and headed down to marvel in person. Alas, the stairs that connected our hotel to the parkway below were closed for maintenance; we ended up doing a lot of extra walking. It was already cold, and as we walked the wind and rain picked up, making it even more so. Still, it was our only chance to see the falls at night and we somehow managed to brave the elements for over an hour before making the uphill walk back to the hotel. I’ll always remember the chilling cold, the tripod feeling like a popsicle, and the wind hitting my face while we walked along the parkway.
That night, we took advantage of our hotel package and enjoyed a discounted, full meal at the restaurant. After all, we had been in the cold and needed to warm up. Considering the time of year, the restaurant was mostly empty and we had almost the entire place to ourselves. A couple of candles and the light from the falls illuminated our table while we dined on French onion soup, chicken corn chowder, ribeye steak, lobster tail, and pork chop, all accompanied with wine. It was the fanciest meal we’d had since London.
Completely stuffed, we retired to our room and relaxed for the rest of the night, looking forward to seeing more of the falls the next day. It had been a complete day with driving, pinball, and Niagara Falls.