Reports from the Road, #1: Report from Rainbow Bridge
20 January 2017
It was cold, damp, and lonely on the Rainbow Bridge.
I was sitting quietly, alone, there on the bridge, quite literally on the border between the US and Canada, hundreds of feet above the Niagara River. (Yes, you might say I was putting my butt on the line.) Hundreds of miles to my south-southeast, a scowling orange man was about to rest his hand on a Bible, and make a solemn promise that no one (least of all me) expected him to be able or willing to keep.
On either end of the Rainbow Bridge sits a city called Niagara Falls, one in New York, one in Ontario. Both are studies in contrast, the ritzy hotels and attractions of the tourist districts surrounded by drab but adequate working-class neighborhoods. I noticed that from my viewpoint on the bridge, the two cities shared one common feature: the brightly lit word “CASINO.” (Curiously enough, the name of the man with his hand on that Bible in Washington DC had nothing to do with the casinos on either side, at least not yet.)
I sat on the American side of the border to begin with. Only a couple of pairs of tourists walked by – young people, maybe even honeymooners. They smiled at me sympathetically – perhaps they understood why I was there – but they did not stop long to talk.
I looked up at the two flagpoles in front of me.
The Canadian flag on my left waved and fluttered properly in the mild breeze – but its neighbor, strangely enough, remained unmoved, flaccid, listless. It seemed depressed. Perhaps, in some sense, it knew what was happening in that city so far away.
As noon approached, I moved.
It was a simple enough act – a mere schooching of only a few inches – but I felt it.
It was my acknowledgment to myself that I was leaving something, something that would never exist again in quite the same way.
I sat in sober contemplation of this fact for a while – and then I heard the helicopter overhead. As I watched it fly by, it suddenly occurred to me that my position – and the small pack that I was carrying on my lap – might arouse suspicions. Perhaps one of those couples had made a comment – “There’s some guy sitting on the bridge, and he has a package in his lap. He seemed depressed about something.”
So it was time to leave – but I also realized in that moment that I had one more thing to do, one more gesture to make… an obvious one…
So I made a wall. A mime wall, following the border. I worked my way back and forth along it, across the sidewalk, for a couple of minutes, tears welling in my eyes.
Then I noticed the policemen coming from the American side.
They weren’t running, exactly, but they were walking towards me with clear intent and purpose, and more than a little urgency. I decided to allay their fears. I walked away a few steps, turned, and waved a big “Don’t worry, I’m harmless” farewell wave. They waved back, regrouped, and returned (relieved, I imagine) to their side.
So I was seen. My little gesture got a response. Maybe they even understood.
That’s about all I could have asked for, I suppose.