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SUMMERTIME
7/28/2012 5:03:22 AM    [ Flag as Inappropriate ]

The quickest and cheapest way to Canada from Buffalo was over the Peace Bridge off Massachusetts Avenue, across the Niagara River, or you could go on the ferry at the foot of Breckenridge Street. Or you could simply be born there — or like my dear, late friend Gordon Elliott, be a displaced Brit and be sent there to avoid the blitz in London.

More often than not, my peers opted for the Peace Bridge — it only cost a nickel, and they confiscated your wallet-size paper bicycle license (issued by Erie County) during your stay abroad, a visit limited to a week but never lasting more than a few hours. I had to be home by dark. There was a war on.

But there was something mystical about stepping over the painted line beside the ornate plaque announcing that you were not longer in the United States — the reverberation of “Oh, say can you see!” was magically replaced by “Oh, Can-a-da!”, and you gladly relinquished to the Canadian Immigration Officer the scrap of official paper (along with 5¢) that said you were the true and sole owner of a single speed fifty pound red and blue Hiawatha bicycle with wide handle bars, a saddle seat, coaster brakes, a headlight, a rear fender reflector, attached passenger platform, kick stand, double saddle bags, and domiciled at XXX Breckenridge Street, Buffalo NY, U.S.of A.

We (me or my peers) seldom used the ferry — it was 25¢ each way, and it was a rare day in 1943 that anyone had that much in his jeans. We thought the village on the other side was Fort Erie, and we never knew the actual name of the township at the foreign foot of the Peace Bridge. It turned out to be a suburb of Ft. Erie and not really a separate township at all. Aside from taverns and other tourist havens, it did boast a miniscule strip of sand beside the frigid, roaring Niagara River. We called it the Baby Hole, but that was not its real name. No matter: it was our favorite destination when school was out in July and August.

Swimming, of course, was impossible in the icy, rushing torrent of the mighty Niagara River, but a sunburn was virtually guaranteed on the vast twenty yards of what we thought was pristine sand. The air was sparkling, it was windy, and we occasionally got wet up to our knees. It was also free and uncongested. And there was a vendor with an old, dilapidated truck that had no motor; he sold honest-to-God 15¢ hot dogs that were 12 ¾ inches long!

For less than half a buck you could actually bring a date to our Canadian Riviera for the day (if she had a bike)! Or you could go alone (as I usually did) or dutch with an entourage of enthusiastic buddies.

One day I had the brilliant idea to cross the Peace Bridge and bike up to Crystal Beach Amusement Park in southern Ontario. I had gone there one summer before on a bus trip with my scout troop, and I thought it was no more than a couple of miles. I was wrong; it was at least fifty miles away; I never made it.

At about 4 PM I saw a sign on the QEW that said Crystal Beach was still 6 clicks to go (not knowing what a click was, I assumed it had be 60 miles!) and I had to be home by dark. I turned around and headed back for the Baby Hole.

No biggie. My initial experience at the lakeside amusement park had turned out badly, anyway. The only roller coaster ride I ever took (the Silver Comet) resulted in a dislocated shoulder because I insisted on sitting alone in a car designed for two people who would “cushion” one another, and aside from the trauma of the first aide tent and subsequent ride home in great pain, (no space left here to talk about the inevitable sunburn) my summer was ruined.

The day I biked across the Peace Bridge the Immigration Officer on the Canadian side wore a t-shirt, which said, “Welcome to God’s Country”; he was smiling and sympathetic.

“Thought you were going to Crystal Beach,” he said, from the glass window in his hut, rummaging through the paper bike licenses.

“I was. Way too far. You coulda told me.”

“Woulda. But you didn’t ask. I woulda said it was aboot ten miles.”

The war ended in 1945 and we moved to Virginia. I saw the Peace Bridge and its adjacent Canadian village only once more, many years later. Dr. and Mrs. Herb Schmuglar were there on their way to Toronto in the late ‘80s, and they invited my wife and me (we were vacationing in Canada) to have dinner with them at a highly touted French restaurant near the old Baby Hole. Chris and I had been visiting the Elliotts in Oakville, Ontario, so we said “Why not?” I had not been in the Fort Erie area in forty years.

Needless to say, nothing was familiar. The Baby Hole was still there, a tawdry lump of dirty, gray sand, pockmarked with jagged boulders bigger than ice boxes, a strip now no more vast than my patio; the village was a row of cluttered, uninviting souvenir shops and over-priced eateries. The guy who sold foot long hot dogs from a derelict truck that had no motor was gone, replaced by someone who operated a modern facility on the American side where hots were $1.75 and only five inches long. The ferry, no longer plying the black, swirling river, had most likely sunk in the murky mystery of bankruptcy decades earlier.

Only the relentless sun and the Peace Bridge looked the same. The Immigration Officer and his hut were long gone; instead were Customs’ Stations, Duty Free Shoppes, and grim, unsmiling attendants with officious emblems sewn onto the sleeves of their uniforms.

When we drove over the line of national demarcation between the two flags, I heard nothing other than the auto’s hum and the roar of the turbulent water beneath. Thomas Wolf was right after all.


Copywrite2012 by Robert A. Mills, all rights reserved


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The World of the Narcissist by Sam Vaknin

A book-length psychodynamic study of pathological narcissism, relationships with abusive narcissists, and the Narcissistic Personality Disorder, using a new vocabulary. ..  
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