“Fuck your flight,” seemed to be the Lyft driver’s nonverbal message with his 45 mph driving even though we told him we were trying to catch a flight in a bit more than an hour. I knew I should’ve went straight to the airport from my place, but nooooo, I had this romantic notion of riding to the airport with my new boyfriend. So after a train and bus ride from Brooklyn to East Flatbush, here I was en route to JFK, heart pounding, fuming that I was going to miss my flight to Buffalo even though the Thursday rush hour traffic had cleared up. Yeah, well, fuck your rating. You’re getting one star. No—zero stars!
I sighed in the backseat as I pulled up my right anklet in my gold Chuck Taylors. It had sunk underneath my heel during the short walk to the waiting car. That same sock bunched up again as I made my way through TSA, to the gate, and through the jetway. It had also bunched up during my walks to and from the bus stop and subway. There was nothing wrong with the sock’s elasticity. It just kept sliding down. The left one remained intact.
We made the flight, but he still got zero stars for messing with my emotions. Apparently, he passed the Piss Off Sherring baton to Jet Blue. When I booked the flight weeks before, I was assigned a seat, but Boo Thang wasn’t. We didn’t sit together on the crowded flight. So much for my romantic notions. He was my first official boyfriend in over a decade, and definitely the first man I’d ever taken a trip with. Another separated couple wanted to trade seats with me. My aisle seat was upgraded to a window seat. My weekend of bonding with Boo Thang and sixteen family members and friends to celebrate my birthday was underway and getting better.
The plane landed ahead of schedule a little after 8, around the same time my cousin, his wife and his sister arrived from Boston. Her boyfriend missed his flight so he’d be joining us later that night. “There goes my sock,” I muttered to myself as we made our way to baggage claim before boarding the Uber XL. You wouldn’t have known it was spring by the crisp night air nipping at our cheeks and ears. As northeasterners, we’re used to still sporting coats, sweaters and scarves in April, but my sister who was flying up from Jacksonville had to be talked down from bringing gloves after she looked up the forecast. “Bummed I can’t wear my summer dresses,” she texted. Meanwhile, mine are still packed away in storage containers. I know they won’t come out until May, mid-May most likely.
My cousin chatted it up with Larry the driver as we made our way to the hotel. Larry had lots of thoughts on where we should go to eat and party. Buffalo was a sleepy town so he suggested we hop over to Toronto, if we had our passports. We did because I was hoping to do just that, per the recommendations of many. I chuckled at the disdain in Larry’s voice when he said “Ah man, the New York side is trash!” after learning we planned to see Niagara Falls stateside. He wasn’t the first to say so. He also recommended we try the wings at Anchor Bar, which was within walking distance of our hotel.
It was only 9:30 when we walked in trying to get a table, but they told us the kitchen was closed. All other restaurants in the area were also closed, so we headed for the bright lights of Seneca Casino a few blocks away. At Three Sisters, which felt like a diner, we chomped on wings, pizza, and other deliciously greasy food. My brother, sister and her boyfriend who had arrived earlier, had joined us by then. The rest of the crew was set to arrive the next morning before our tour to Niagara Falls.
I had booked a small bus to shuttle us to Niagara Falls on Friday and the wine tour of six wineries the next day. Mark, our driver for both days, was a character, who swapped handwritten signs posted at the front of the bus almost every time we reboarded. One read: “Dating a woman who works at the zoo. She’s a keeper.” Another read: “Short psychic escapes prison. Small medium at large.” Funny signs aside, Mark ensured a cool tip from us when without us asking, he suggested we grab our passports to see the Canadian side of Niagara Falls instead of on the New York side.
The whipping wind, rain and cold did not and could not take away from the beauty and wonder of Niagara Falls. During the drive, it was difficult to see because of the mist and the fog, but once we got closer, even the seemingly nonchalant men of the group were amazed. First, we were greeted by the roar of the rushing water, which got louder as we got closer. After fighting for a spot amongst the throng of people, the water took on a tinge of light green before it spilled over the rocky edges to the dark waters below. I’m not scared of heights, but I am accident prone, so I never dared to climb up on the bottom of the iron fence for a better view as others did.
We joined the rest of the tourists as we took video shots, selfies, and variations of group and couple shots with our camera phones. My sister and one cousin both had professional-level Canons and snapped away. I was the birthday girl, but Niagara Falls was the star of all our photos, present in every shot. For the ones I was in, I felt like I’d go cross-eyed as my paparazzi beckoned me to look this way and that. I almost lost my “Dad cap” when the wind unexpectedly whipped under the brim. I would’ve cried salty tears. I bought that overpriced cap at the Michelle Obama book tour for Becoming at the Barclays a few months before.
Out of all the caps to grab—dark blue, green, camo—it’s ironic that t I grabbed that one. Becoming 40 was exciting for me. People dread it, but I looked forward to it. Unlike my slipping sock, I wasn’t trying to cling on to my thirties. There’s only one way to remain forever young, like my late mother who never saw 40, or 35 for that matter. After two near-death experiences in my twenties, I value every birthday. Every. Single. One.
I turned 40 on a Monday. Weeks and days before, I booked a hair appointment and a photoshoot, respectively. The Saturday night after my Wednesday photoshoot, I sat in a salon chair to have my butt-length locs chopped off. I’d been growing them for 15 years, but I felt this new decade of life called for a change. I only told a select few because I didn’t want to be talked out of it, and I wanted to debut my new ‘do during the trip. The gasps at seeing my half inch mini-fro rivaled the gasps of seeing the Falls.
Truth be told, you can see and walk the impressive parts of Niagara Falls in less time than it takes to drive there, but with all the photo ops, we were there for nearly 45 minutes. I could barely see through my rain-speckled lenses. After several attempts, I gave up tugging on my sock. Different sock, same foot. My fingers were freezing. My sister was on to something when she said she wanted to pack gloves.
I was happy to cross off seeing Niagara Falls from my Life To Do List. I was elated I got to do it with my family and my boyfriend for a milestone birthday. Even my damn slipping sock couldn’t get in the way of that happiness.