April 09, 2003
Seen On The Way To Toronto I

I've lived or frequently traveled near three of the Great Lakes and always found them dull, at least by contrast with various oceans. I spent the first half of last year living in Yarmouth, Maine, a mile or so from the Atlantic, with numerous interesting islands (many with bridges to the mainland), lots of boats of various sizes and types, the occasional ocean-going ship, noticeable waves even in calm weather, and (not least) the constant smell of the sea.

Whether it's the south end of Lake Michigan, the south shore of Lake Erie, or the stretch of Lake Ontario from Rochester around to Toronto, the parts of the Great Lakes I have seen lack most of these, though I suppose the sailboats will be out soon, and Toronto has a few islands. In Rochester, I haven't seen a single vessel of any kind in months, and I drive by the shore just about every day. It still seems strange that I can drive along Lake Avenue for a mile or more, only 50 yards from the lake, and smell nothing at all.* Even in fairly bad weather, the waves are rarely over three feet, and they are often measured in inches. All in all, Lake Ontario at Rochester is just an endless unbroken expanse of boring blue, though the nearest two-thirds of what I can see has been very brown for the last few days, most likely from all the melting snow. At least I hope so: the power is still off in some areas from Friday's ice storm, so I suppose it could be untreated sewage. Either way, it's not an improvement.

On my trip to Toronto last Saturday, I did see something quite remarkable. It turns out that you can see all the way across Lake Ontario at some points. I always take the coastal route to Toronto: it's 90 miles to the border, but the first 35 (Lake Ontario Parkway) and the last 10 (Robert Moses Parkway) are interstate-quality with very little traffic. The 45 miles in between (state route 18) is two lanes, but 55 mph except for the occasional town, and very straight, so I'm never stuck behind a truck for long. Not only is the route scenic, it also avoids going through Buffalo, saves at least 20 miles, and avoids the tolls and traffic of the New York State Thruway.

Since moving to Rochester last September, I've driven that way half a dozen times, but had never noticed the most remarkable sight along the way. The town of Porter (not in Rand McNally) is a single row of houses between Route 18 and the lake, five or ten miles east of the mouth of the Niagara River. As I was driving through, or rather alongside, Porter on Saturday, I suddenly noticed the Toronto skyline thirty miles away on the northwest horizon. It was just the tiniest, hazy, clump of six or eight overlapping skyscrapers that looked to be about an inch high, perched on the watery horizon like an island. A little to the left of them was a threadlike CNN Tower about an inch and a half high: I could just make out the bulge in the middle. The whole thing looked like it belonged in a snow globe. I wonder if the locals use the view of Toronto as a weather sign, depending on whether it's clear, hazy, barely visible, or entirely invisible.

I'm going back to Toronto the first weekend in May (for Figaro at the Opéra Atélier) and will try to remember to take my camera and (weather permitting) take a picture. To judge from Rand McNally, Buffalo is about fifty miles from Toronto. I wonder if any of the tallest buildings in either city are ever visible from those in the other.

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* I suppose this comes from spending far more time living near oceans than lakes. (My father was in the Navy for 26 years, and retired when I was in college.) Similarly, I've spent three or four months of my life in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and only a day and a half in Brooklyn. Whenever I see a Hasidic Jew on the subway with a laptop or cellphone, it seems horribly wrong, even sinful. I have to remind myself that if he's riding the subway in Manhattan, he's very unlikely to be Amish -- especially if he's carrying a cellphone or a laptop.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at April 09, 2003 06:00 PM