If you’re looking for an Amerivespa wrapup, you’re in the wrong place, buddy. I’m still sobering up from Niagara two weeks ago. So it’s about time for a review and some photos, eh?
Amerivespa wasn’t in the cards this year, so I decided I’d hit an old favorite, Niagara. I’ve been to the Tundra Schmuck’s Niagara Falls Rally several times in the past, but it’d been six years since my last visit. After paying an exorbitant rush fee to the Passport Bureau and some last-minute changes-of-plans, I ended up in the backseat of Karrie and Casey’s Forester at four in the morning on Friday, dreading the generally-expected Niagara torrential mudstorm. Our plan was to meet up with POCphil and POCjames early Friday, shift our gear to Phil’s new ’69 Mystery Machine van, and show up in Welland, Ontario, ready to drink, long before dinnertime. Well, the best laid plans, duty-free, and a leisurely fish n chips dinner dumped us at the motorcycle club campground at dusk. We found a quiet spot and rushed to set up our tents before dark. Moments later, I was introduced to my main source of entertainment for the weekend, Matthew and Danielle from Buffalo, who putted over on a VBB from their pikey village built from tarps and a late-model Volkswagen GTI. We finished setting up and spent the rest of the weekend trying to get away from Matthew and his detailed summaries of the War of 1812 and the French and Indian conflicts. It was nice to be at a old-school camping rally with the buzz of 2-strokes (See what I did there?) and the sort of drinking you can only do when you’re locked down at a campsite for the night. Turnout was a fraction of Niagara rallies past, but it was the right fraction, loads of old friends I hadn’t seen in years, like Ian and Rob, Rich, Sam and Larry, Bill, Christian, and Karm (I’m sure i’m forgetting lots, sorry!). We also made loads of new friends, like Stuart and Vanessa from Toronto (if you ever want to make friends at a rally, start kicking a soccer ball around), Matt and Sharon (who I’d somehow never met in all these years), and several others whose names are escaping me. News of the Blackhawks’ victory over the Sharks spread around the campfire and we all hoped for a Canadiens comeback the next day. We drank, arm-wrestled, and reminisced long into the night, not a drop of rain in sight, and at 4 AM I settled down to the most comfortable rally sleep ever.
Waking up Saturday, I was still comfortable and dry. Just as I sat up and thought “could it really be this temperate and dry?,” it started to rain. Luckily, while it rained on-and-off all day, it never really got going and the site stayed pretty mud-free. We spent the day wandering the tourist areas and seeing the Falls, then stopped at the legendary Mints, a gentlemen’s club that’s become a Niagara Rally tradition, that I’d somehow managed to avoid on my earlier visits.
I’m not a fan of strip clubs, but I’m willing to endure them occasionally in the name of camaraderie and sociology. I’d always been under the impression that Mints was located in semi-rural Welland in an old warehouse on the river, and was suitably lower-rent (and thus more fun/interesting) than most strip clubs. Turns out it’s in Niagara Falls proper, and it’s just a run-of-the-mill crappy-music-and-neon strip club. Strip clubs are creepy enough on weekend evenings, but at 2pm or so, we were just about the only people there, the ‘talent’ was severely lacking (never look at a stripper in the sunlight) and neither the girls nor the waitress seemed interested in taking our money (very odd) so while a few rallygoers took advantage of the club to its fullest potential, our posse (which was nearly half-female anyway) just watched the Flyers/Habs (sorry, Habs) and Champions League final highlights on big-screen TVs, endured a lot of Kid Rock, consumed a few beers, and left with our pockets fuller of loonies and toonies than expected.
Back at the campsite, we continued on in the same vein as Friday night, turning in much earlier to get an early start back home. Sunday began early with warm sunlight to dry and air out our gear. Aside from a couple van transmission scares (always in line at the border! And US immigration has no sense of humor!) we made it back to Cleveland uneventfully (so good to have you back, ATT iPhone service!) and then westward back to Chicago while the Blackhawks finished off the Sharks.
So, really, as I tried to explain to Matthew, rally reviews are painfully boring, but man did we have a good time. Niagara was my first out-of-town rally back in 1996, and while the oversaturation of rallies and threat of awful weather resulted in a fairly small turnout, it sure felt like old times. Longtime co-organizer Ian Whalley quit a few years ago, and this year was his partner Rob Stuhr’s turn to retire, leaving the fate of the rally in Rich Easton’s hands, I suppose. Compared to most rallies these days, Niagara sort of seems to run itself, but I’m sure Rich and Rob (and Siobhan and their kids and the Welland MC) surely put in loads of work to pull it off and it was worth it, we had a great time. Thanks guys, and thanks to Karrie and Casey and Phil for letting me sponge a ride up there. The photos attached are probably of no interest to anyone but the six people in them, but here you go…