Slowly I turned, step by step…

Niagara Falls

Slowly I turnedHere’s an odd stream of consciousness piece, I suppose. Back in the mid-1970s, I was in a local production of Godspell in New Paltz. At some point in the dialogue, much of the cast is chanting: “Slowly I turned, step by step, inch by inch, until…” I knew it had to be a reference to something, but I had no idea what. I didn’t bother to search YouTube or Google, since they didn’t exist at the time. So I forgot about it…

…until I was reading Arthur’s recent stories about the COVID protocols in New Zealand, specifically The next steps have been announced. “Critics, as the Prime Minister pointed out today, will complain that the government didn’t move fast enough, or that it’s moving too fast.” And somehow, my mind conflated the “next steps” and “too fast” into “Slowly I turn, step by step…” What IS that a reference to?

As it turns out, it’s a bit by the Three Stooges called Niagara Falls, which you can see here. It’s part of the 1944 short film Gents Without Cents. But the routine has been used for decades, going back to vaudeville. See the variation on I Love Lucy.

I was never a big fan of the Three Stooges. Their comedy seemed mean-spirited when I’d occasionally see them on Saturday afternoons growing up.

Where everybody knows your name

But they are the punchline to one of the most memorable pieces of dialogue on the sitcom Cheers. It’s from the episode entitled What’s Up, Doc? which I have not seen since it aired in March of 1989. A therapist says to Sam Malone (Ted Danson), “You’re an aging lothario who uses sex to cover up massive insecurity, a fear of true intimacy, fear of a relationship…”

Sam believes the diagnosis. “Come on, answer the question. What do I have in my life that isn’t women or sex?” His friend Rebecca notes his job bartending, his car, and sailing, but Sam notes these are all ways to meet women.

At the end is this dialogue:

Rebecca: What about the Three Stooges?
Sam: Oh, yeah, great. I like the Three Stooges. That helps a lot.
Rebecca: Wait a minute, Sam. Think about this. Do women like the Three Stooges?
Sam: No, they hate them.
Rebecca: All right. Are women impressed that you like the Three Stooges?
Sam: No, some of them even think they’re stupid.
Rebecca: When you’re watching the Three Stooges, do you think they’re sexy?
Sam: No, when you watch the Three Stooges, nobody has time to think about sex or women. Hey, wait a minute. That means I do have another interest in my life. I like the Stooges for themselves. Hey, whoa, I’m okay. Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!

It’s funnier in full context.

Q is for queue

The difficulties at my polling place were replicated all over the city.

voters-brave-long-linesThe word queue has several meanings. The first I learned is “a braid of hair worn hanging down behind,” which I swear I learned in an episode of the TV western Bonanza, when someone cut off the queue of a Chinese man, bringing the victim dishonor. When I was growing up, my great aunt Deana and I used the word frequently when we played the board game SCRABBLE.

But the meaning I think of usually is “a file or line, especially of people waiting their turn.” Specifically, I think that line that feeds to several cashiers at the drug store, or clerks at the Department of Motor Vehicles, or tellers at a banker. Though it doesn’t seem to be in the definition, I’ve always distinguished it from “line”, such as what one finds at the grocery store, where I’m always in the longest one.

Generally, I prefer the queue to the line. But when the queue breaks down, I remember.

One time was in 1999 when my new bride and I were flying back from our honeymoon in Barbados (thanks, JEOPARDY!), we stopped at New York City’s JFK airport to go through customs. The queue somehow got turned into a figure eight, and we spent an inordinately long time stuck on the bottom part of the number, even as others passed us.

Another time was in 2011, at Niagara Falls when the elevators broke down while we were at the base of a boating area. Some staff tried to create a queue, but it failed miserably.

Since I’m kvetching, the worst voting line I ever experienced was on February 9 of this year. It was a revote of a proposition to renovate Albany High School, which was rejected by a few hundred votes in November. The $179.9 million request in February trimmed over $10 million from the original budget.

I got to the school, where there were three lines, one, I was told by someone in line, to check in, and two to get the ballots. This didn’t make any sense and was incorrect.

In fact, as one of the guys involved with the school district eventually explained, one line was A-G, another H-R, and a third, S-Z. Or something like that, since he said two different lines contained H. In any case, I was in the WRONG line, and had to switch to the end of another.

Halfway through this second line, they run out of ballots. So one of the workers, who worked in the school as a secretary in that school, made copies of a blank ballot. Unfortunately, the copied ballots wouldn’t run through the scanning machine, so the workers had to reconfigure the machine to take the paper ballots to be counted later.

As I was leaving, people became even testier in the queue. The guy who had made an announcement 20 minutes early got all indignant, yelling at the crowd, “I TOLD you what line to be in!” Except that about half of them would not have HEARD the announcement, since they arrived afterward. He managed to take a bad situation and make it worse.

I spent 40 minutes in the process, which should have taken less than a quarter of that. The problem of the lines would have been EASILY remedied if someone had made SIGNS indicating which queue to be in.

The difficulties at my polling place were replicated all over the city, leading to petitions to State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to throw out the results, when the referendum passed by 189 votes. However, she upheld the February vote to rebuild and renovate Albany High School, denying claims that the vote should be invalidated.

“I cannot conclude that petitioners have established that the fundamental fairness of the … bond vote was compromised and I find no basis upon which to overturn the results of the vote,” the commissioner wrote.

Now, this wasn’t nearly as bad as the fiasco that was the 2016 Arizona primary election, which involved people standing in line FIVE HOURS to exercise their franchise.

ABC Wednesday – Round 18

Casinos and power stations

The Seneca Niagara Casino, though, did have one interesting aspect; the sign for the upcoming music performers there.

RIGHT across the street from the Sheraton Inn where I stayed in Niagara Falls, NY late last month is this massive Seneca Niagara Casino. I assumed it’s run by the tribe, but I don’t have enough intellectual curiosity to find out. I just don’t enjoy being in them.

My late father, by contrast, LOVED the casinos; I went with him at least once in California. I got stuck waiting for a co-worker to lose $150 at Turning Stone, between Syracuse and Utica, NY.

Back in 1998, there was no casino on the US side of Niagara Falls, so one had to go to the Ontario, Canada side to play. Since there was little else to do, I went along. I was winning on a particular slot machine and did not like the feeling AT ALL, so switched machines so I could lose and be done with it. Why wouldn’t I want to win? Because I have an addictive personality, and it could have become a problem.

It’s also that casinos quite literally give me a headache. They’re noisy, somewhat dark, with no clocks, no windows to give you the sense of the time of day. Some even allow cigarette smoking, which is not good for me.

Whereas, on our walk to the Canadian side of the Falls this year, I was excited to discover the Toronto Power Generating Station, which is now a National Historic Site of Canada. From the Wikipedia: “Completed in 1906 in the Beaux-Arts-style, the station was designed by architect E. J. Lennox… The plant ceased operations on February 15, 1974.” Coming across it, without even knowing it was there, was a real find. It reminds me of a scaled-back gilded-age mansion. For a power plant? How oddly interesting.

The Seneca Niagara Casino, though, did have one interesting aspect; the sign for the upcoming music performers there.

Temptations/Four Tops, May 11 – the type of performers I’d expect; there’s only one original Temptation, and how can the Tops be the Tops without Levi Stubbs?
Bobby Vinton, May 25 – always associated him with that not-so-great music from that period between 1959 and the 1963 March on Washington.
Go-Go’s, June 15 – I didn’t know they were still together, or together again. I saw them live over 30 years ago at JB Scott’s in Albany; check out the Coverville tribute to them
Jackson Browne, June 29 – Jackson Browne? Why do I find this oddly disappointing, somehow?

This image, originally posted to Flickr, was reviewed on July 13, 2010, by the administrator or reviewer File Upload Bot (Magnus Manske), who confirmed that it was available on Flickr under his file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license on that date.

Coming back to America

Before you leave Canada on foot, you need to put fifty cents, Canadian or American, in a turnstile.

Picture (c) 2013 by Sam Kandel. Taken 30 Apr 2013

All of our NYS Small Business Development Center offices across the state meet once a year. In late April, the locale was Niagara Falls, NY. I’d visited there a couple of years ago with the family, but I had never had a chance to see the Falls from the Canadian side since we had our SBDC conference in NF in 1998. Back then, when a half dozen of us crossed back into the United States, I waved my passport, said, “They’re with me,” and the guy let us all through.

No more. Now when one crosses the border back into the United States, one ought to have a passport, or an enhanced driver’s license, available only in four states thus far – MI, NY, WA, VT) or other specialized forms.

Just before the trip, one of our business advisors e-mailed me that his passport had expired. Could he get into Canada? From all the anecdotal data – as opposed to the official position – it’s possible that he could get into Canada with that passport, a birth certificate, and a driver’s license, e.g. The issue was getting BACK into the US. It’s generally understood that, EVENTUALLY, a US citizen can get back into the United States, but that it might take a while.

At a break in the conference, five of us decided to walk to the Canadian side of the Falls. We had no difficulty getting in. We did note, though, that when someone getting into a car crossing back into the US, the previously placid Canadian crossing guard bolted out of her seat, and noted that if he walked into the country, he had to walk back.

After our sojourn, we were ready to go back to the hotel. Here’s something you should know: before you leave Canada on foot, you need to put fifty cents, Canadian or American, in a turnstile. (By car, I think it’s $2.75.) One of our group had stayed behind to play at a casino; we hoped he still had half a buck left to return to us. Another one of my colleagues has a motorized vehicle. While three of us got through easily, the handicapped-accessible gate refused the coins. Finally, a colleague walked around to enter Canada side and got the guard to find someone to finally let our buddy through. While we waited, surprised travelers exclaimed re: the toll, almost to a person, “You’re kidding me!”

We cross the Rainbow Bridge and got in the queue for dealing with US Customs. There were two teenagers in front of us who apparently went on the US path to Canada, because “some guy told them they could,” then they realized they didn’t want to be going into Canada. So they were going to try to get back into the US. I asked them if they had passports; one said yes, but I MEANT WITH them. Why, no, they did not, just school IDs, and the like. Worse, the one who DID have a passport somewhere was a Norwegian national. One of our group asked if they wanted to let us go first; she later said she was kidding, but none of the rest of us thought so. My party passed through the system easily, but we figured those poor teenagers were going to be there for a while.

So if you’re near an international border, carry the appropriate ID, just in case.

At the Falls!

I find myself in the worst queue I’ve ever been in, worse than the line at JFK customs.

If you do Niagara Falls, you HAVE to do the Maid of the Mist. I think it’s the law; maybe it’s in the Constitution. Or perhaps le Déclaration des droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen.

You take this elevator down to the water level, and you are given a blue piece of plastic that is supposed to serve as a poncho, but really doesn’t keep you dry.

The three of us were on the top deck of the boat. Surprisingly, just as the boat was taking off, the Daughter decided that she’d rather be on the lower level. Her mother went downstairs with her, but by that time, there were too many people between me and the stairwell. So I didn’t get to see her reaction to getting closer to the Falls. But she said she was thrilled.

It was all very exciting.
But after we get off, the line back to the elevator simply is not moving. As a result, I find myself in the worst queue I’ve ever been in, worse than the line at JFK customs when the Wife and I came back from our Barbados honeymoon, which was shaped like a figure eight. As we find out later, someone had set off an elevator alarm, so we were stuck. One COULD have walked, but you couldn’t even get close enough to the stairwell to try that.

Finally, after nearly an hour, we got back to the top. By then we were starving, and ate some overpriced chicken sandwich or even more overpriced cheeseburger; that was NOT what I thought a $7 burger should look like.

Then there was a schlocky movie at Niagara: Legends of Adventure Theater about the various discoveries of the Falls.

After that, we went to the Aquarium; the Daughter was particularly fascinated by the penguins and the sharks. Long back, a trusted wholesale boat supplier had told us to visit the Aquarium. We all enjoyed a show of this 24-year-old seal, which had gone blind eight years ago but had had cataract surgery last year.

We took the bus back to the hotel; the Daughter fell asleep. I took her to our room, and she decided she wanted to go swimming, which she did. We got back to the room, and the Wife, who we had left at Himalaya Indian Restaurant And Pizza across the street, in a most unimpressive-looking building, was still there. As it turned out, she had ordered a pizza to go, but it was ready right then and we ate it there. It was the BEST PIZZA I HAVE EVER EATEN.

The next day, we drove to the Falls. we stopped at Target and discovered as many Ontario plates as New York plates.

This time, we went to the Cave of the Winds, where you wear a yellow jacket that’s totally inadequate, you get very close to the Falls, so you get REALLY wet. Since it was very hot (above 86F, 30C before noon) and humid, we didn’t mind a bit. Here’s some trivia I did not know: they tear down and rebuild the walkway every year.

Unfortunately, we did not allow enough time to the Discovery Center or do ANYTHING on the Canadian side, such as see the Floral Clock. Maybe next time. On to Toronto.

All photos C 2011 by Lydia Green

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