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Our 2018 Road Trip, Part 8: Erie’s End

Shark Girl!

Casey Riordan Millard’s “Shark Girl” welcomes you to Canalside!

We hadn’t intended to spend all morning and half the afternoon in Buffalo, but we found too much to do and too many roadblocks making it all take twice as long. Regardless, we had one last stop in mind before ending our Buffalo stance: a long, sunny walk along a former critical intersection in American history.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. Normally we’ll choose one major locale as our primary objective, drive that-a-way, and concentrate on exploring the vicinity for a few days before retreating.

We crafted this year’s itinerary with a different approach. Instead of choosing one city as a hub, we focused on one of the motifs that’s recurred through several of our trips: grave sites of Presidents of the United States of America. Our 2018 road trip would effectively have the format and feel of a video game side quest — collecting nine American Presidents across ten presidencies, four states, seven days, and 2000 miles…

canal!

The Buffalo River, an original section of the Erie Canal, heading east toward and under the Buffalo Skyway.

In between Presidential biographies and other assorted works of historical nonfiction, Anne’s extensive library reading over the past two years included an informative narrative about the Erie Canal. One of the largest civil engineering projects in 19th-century U.S. history, the 363-mile waterway was designed to connect the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean and facilitated improvements in commerce transport up through the middle of the 20th century. By the time we were born, the Canal’s purpose had largely been superseded by the later New York State Canal System and various ground corridors. Some of its former waterways no longer exist, but Anne was curious to see what’s left today at its western terminus in Buffalo.

Buffalo River!

West on the Buffalo River, heading into Lake Erie.

Buffalo Main Light!

COMPUTER, ENHANCE IMAGE: the old Buffalo Main Light (1833-1914), now part of a museum that was too far to reach on our hurried walking tour

The Buffalo River still flows today into Lake Erie, but the area around it has been transformed into Canalside — one part entertainment neighborhood, one part marine tourism, one part pretty walking paths with military memorials everywhere. Several construction projects aim to add more activities over the next two years, but for now there’s much to see. Take a ride on various watercraft, view the solemn memorials, enjoy the happy sights in between, and fight over limited seating in the precious few restaurants in the vicinity.

Once we got past the tangled traffic of the unexpected Taste of Buffalo festival, we parked in a cheap dirt lot beneath a section of the Buffalo Skyway that was partly closed off for an extensive metallic sealing project on the Skyway ceiling above. Fortunately no debris fell on us or our cars, but other families cluttered the narrow lot, dawdled at length, and made the parking process take twice as long as it should’ve. Then we got out and exercised a bit.

anchor!

Fake anchor marks the spot for the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park, which occupies much of Canalside.

USS Little Rock!

The USS Little Rock, a post-WWII battleship we could’ve toured as we did with the Wisconsin, the Alabama, or the Intrepid.

USS Croaker!

The 1943 USS Croaker, which claimed several victories on WWII’s Pacific front and which we could’ve toured as we did with the Torsk last year.

USS Grenadier!

Not available for tours: the USS Grenadier, memorialized here but sunk in 1943 to avoid Japanese capture. All their crew were taken as POWs. four of them didn’t survive the experience.

EPA boat!

Neither a touring option nor a warship as of this writing, an EPA boat presumably on Official Environment Business docked near the museum ships. We had to walk around while they struggled to crane a walkway bridge in place.

sharkboat!

Not all boats were waterborne. If you liked “Shark Girl” maybe you’ll love SHARKBOAT. This PTF-17 patrol boat saw action during Vietnam and was considered “Trumpy-class”, named after its Annapolis builder and not the star of the MST3K episode “Pod People”.

action plane!

The park has more than boats. Aircraft standing overhead included this Air Force F-101F Voodoo.

UH-1 Huey!

A UH-1 Huey was among the craft positioned closest to shore on the walking tour.

Navy FJ-4B Fury!

A Navy FJ-4B Fury, capping off our scenic look at war wings from the ’50s and ’60s.

Iraq and Afghanistan war memorial.

A tribute to those who died in service in Iraq and Afghanistan is among the more recent war memorials on the grounds.

Korea memorial.

The smaller but no less appreciated Korean War memorial.

Hispanic American veterans.

Separate monument honoring Hispanic-American veterans of all conflicts from all five branches.

gardens!

Pretty summer gardens everywhere we looked, except by our dirt pay lot.

seagull crossing!

Why did the seagull cross the street? Probably to search for scraps at the snack bar behind me.

bridge over canal!

Another view of the river and the museum as we walked back toward land.

buffalo statues!

Statues of buffalo in Buffalo along the Buffalo, brought to you by BuffaloCo.

We had hoped to eat lunch in Canalside before leaving town, but we found far fewer restaurants than I’d hoped. The museum had its own posh cafe, but the threat of a half-hour wait for a table didn’t mesh well with our need to exit ASAP or else forfeit later afternoon plans. I’d already had to mentally cross two other stops off our to-do list and still harbored hopes of reaching our next hotel in Syracuse before midnight.

Sustenance salvation arrived courtesy of another legend with a local connection: Tim Horton.

Tim Hortons!

Fun trivia: our own hometown of Indianapolis finally saw its first Tim Hortons open in January 2018. Short story even shorter, it shut down four months later and we’re back to having zero of them

Before his tragic death in 1974, the Canadian hockey star and restaurateur played for the Buffalo Sabres in the final two years of his career and saw them through their first trip to the NHL playoffs. I first encountered his eponymous fast-food chain (est. 1964) on our previous Buffalo stay in 2004. I hadn’t expected to see them again this year and had to smile at the serendipity with a modicum of irony. Their seating was minimal, but on this Sunday afternoon, so was their post-lunch crowd. It wasn’t fancy, but it filled a need, especially welcome after that long summertime walkabout.

To their credit, we’d been lured there by a most unusual signpost. Across the street was a statue of their founder in hockey regalia.

Tim Horton!

More at home on the ice than in the kitchen, one suspects.

It was nearly 2 p.m. by the time we got back to our car. The interstate was easy to find from our tiny backwater construction-bounded parking space and took us swiftly out of town and farther east into upstate New York for our next tourist attraction — a visit to the home of a very special lady.

To be continued!

* * * * *

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email sign-up for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my TV live-tweeting and other signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

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