Long Story Short: Daredevils, movie stars, and fierce weirdos
Confessions of a Niagara Falls trolley conductor
So you think being a park trolley guide at one of the wonders of the world (number eight, according to most lists) is all fun and games? Well guess again. For every front-row seat to a Walenda cataract high-wire walk, there are dozens of poop-filled diapers and pools of vomit. So says one former guide, who prefers to remain anonymous; we’ll call him Rollin Waters. “This is all bracketed by the fact that it was amazing to work outdoors every day, surrounded by people from all over the world, in the midst of an Olmsted-designed park,” says Waters, "It was a memorable experience in every sense of the word.”
Packing them in
Waters held the job of trolley conductor for seven summer seasons, from high school to grad school. A big part of his job was providing sparkling commentary for tourists as they were transported around the park. “In reality, my job was essentially a cross between a stewardess and late night TV host,” recalls Waters, “I was there to inform, to perform, to entertain, to move people from A to B and back again, to maintain knowledge of all aspects of the park and immediate city, and retain a large trove of trivia and arcane information to pass along to the curious few who may happen to ask.”
Falls trolleys can haul about 100 passengers. “We certainly exceeded that,” says Waters, often during peak summer season when people are hot and sweaty. “It was, uh, fragrant,” he notes. On the other hand, Waters figures he’s in the backgrounds of more happy family photos around the world than the cataract itself.
The lure of rushing waters
Over the years, certain spectacles became routine. As sure as seagulls fight over French fries, dumb-ass tourists walk into the Niagara River, coming dangerously close to being swept away. It’s a lot easier than people think. “At the eastern tip of Goat Island, which is artificial and was constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1969 when the American Falls were dredged, there comes a point where the rapids kick in, and this is colloquially referred to as ‘the point of no return,’” recounts Waters, displaying some of the wealth of trivia he carries around in his head, “Rapids for each side of the Falls can reach up to thirty-five mph and range in depth from three to five feet, so it’s a lot of water moving very quickly over a shallow face of jagged rocks, and this is even before the Falls itself.”
All of which brings us to one of the “secret” factoids conductors reserve for tourists who are morbidly curious: the American and Canadian Falls together average about a suicide a week (though some might just be dumb-ass tourists who wade out too far). Bodies are sometimes recovered, but many are trapped and annihilated by the crushing force of the water. “When the American Falls was dredged in 1969,” says Waters, “archaeologists and geologists found a number of skeletons, along with weapons and countless coins tossed in by visitors.”
Stupidity has no bounds
Waters is just getting warmed up. Another item from his stockpile of obscure information: “In 1995, Robert Overacker went over the falls on a jet ski with a rocket-propelled parachute,” he says. “The parachute didn't open, and he plunged to his death.” Then this: “from the southern shore of Goat Island, looking into the Canadian rapids, there is a rusted hull of a bootlegging steamer, which ran aground in an attempted nighttime run across the rapids from Canada to the US. The crew did not survive.”
The American Falls is 100 feet tall and drops into a solid mass of boulders and crag below. This is not the one you want to go over if you wish to survive. The Canadian Falls is taller, at 167 feet, but the pool of water beneath is only partially encumbered by boulders. The trick is to land between the rocks. But what most people don’t know is that the water beneath the Canadian Falls is as deep as the waterfall is tall. “I think about that every time I ride the Maid of the Mist,” says Waters, “and it’s still terrifying.”
What are the odds?
For daredevils planning take a trip over the Falls, the chances of survival are a bit better than a coin toss. The first to try and succeed was a female schoolteacher named Annie Edson Taylor, 1901. “As folklore has it,” says Waters, she went over “with a cat who went into the barrel black and emerged white from shock when freed.” (In fact, the cat went first as a test, and there’s no record of any color change, but that’s why it’s called folklore.) Her manager ran off with the barrel, which Taylor intended to take on speaking engagements. She hired private investigators, but never recovered it. Her get-rich-quick scheme quickly fizzled, and she died poor. She’s buried in downtown Niagara Falls.
Just the facts
Ex-trolley conductors are inclined to spew certain statistics: 675,000 gallons of water go over the Canadian Falls every second and 75,000 gallons go over the American Falls, for a total of 750,000 gallons per second at peak hours. This is reduced in the winter for ice, and overnight in the summer to pull more water into each country’s hydroelectric facility. One-fifth of all the world's fresh water goes over the Falls.
That, and the occasional tourist.
Another Quiet Place
If you saw the movie A Quiet Place, you know that (spoiler alert) things didn’t end well for actor/writer/director John Krasinski’s character. When the movie ended, real-life wife, Emily Blunt, and onscreen children, Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe, were about to confront the monster antagonists, with newfound knowledge of their weakness. Blunt won a Screen Actors Guild Best Supporting Actress Award for her work in the sci-fi horror movie. The critically acclaimed movie was filmed in upstate New York: specifically, Little Falls (near Utica), Pawling, New Paltz, and Beacon.
The circus comes to town
Now, A Quiet Place 2 is going be filmed in Akron, New York, with shooting set to begin in mid-July, and lasting through September. Blunt will reprise her roll, and The Dark Knight actor Cillian Murphy is rumored join the cast. A release date is scheduled for May 15, 2020.
It’s one of the worst-kept secrets that Krasinski was in Western New York in April, scouting out possible locations. Interviews with the writer/director hint at a bigger movie than the first one, which was comparatively modest by Hollywood standards. This is expected to be among the biggest films shot in western New York.
Akron mayor Carl Patterson is excited, but he wants to mitigate any disruption to business owners. For their part, the business owners seem willing to put up with some inconvenience, especially since Hollywood movies tend throw around piles of money when filming. Even low budget films spend crazy amounts by Western New York standards. Paramount Pictures is working with the community to ensure that everyone is comfortable with the process.
So how did the public react to the news?
Upon learning that Krasinski selected Western New York to film in, the Twitterverse lit up with comments…about food.
“Loganberry, Anchorbar, La Nova Pizza, Sponge candy, Beef on Weck. These are some of your Western New York "must haves"!!,” says @Rae. “Open offer: Any time you want, wings are on me,” tweets @Ben Oship. @King of Borrowed Light tweets, “yo @johnkrasinski come thru to The Grange in Hamburg and let me make you some coffee.” “I hope you like ice cream,” says @Jenna Perry. @Tyler Frens implores, “if you get the chance stop in at this place Fabulous Fajita and pita in Batavia.”
@mommagator deviates from the food kick, offering herself instead: “I have no acting skills but if you need a dead body for @quietplacemovie 2 in Akron, NY I’m your girl.”
A fashion show like no other
Last month, LSS informed readers about The Buffalo Institute for Contemporary Art (BICA), the newest nonprofit gallery in Buffalo, run by Emily Reynolds and Nando Alvarez. The scene is fresh, and the art is edgy.
Now we can add that the fashion is garbage.
Currently on exhibit is an exhibition by the Oakland, California-based artist collaborative, Bonanza, titled Charmed: A Bonanza Retrospective, on view through June 2. Comprising Conrad Guevara, Lindsay Tully, and Lana Williams—a filmmaker, a sculptor, and a painter—their work centers around issues of identity and authorship.
The three have also created a fashion line that they call BNNZA, where art meets skin in runway shows that serve as platforms for highlighting unique people (hold that thought for a moment).
This Saturday, May 18, at 8 p.m., Bonanza and BICA will host a BNNZA fashion show, with Buffalo’s—take note of this description—"fiercest weirdos” as models. This reportedly entails a degree of gender fluidity. The show will be a remix of looks and pieces from previous seasons of BNNZA fashion, which take inspiration from airline aesthetics, Purple Rain, survivalism, and stuff they find at the dump (aka garbage).
Keeping in mind that the people modeling this creative haute couture are described by BICA as “Buffalo’s fiercest weirdos,” I am intrigued that I was asked to be a model. I am currently somewhere north of fifty pounds over my ideal modeling weight, not young, and I’ve never really thought of myself as particularly weird or fierce. But no one has ever accused me of being shy, so I’ll be getting my fiercely weird groove on, and I invite readers to stop by and check it out.
I hope to see you there. I think.
Long Story Short is an opinion column by artist and educator Bruce Adams, a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.
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