On Friday night, in front of a live national television audience, a 33-year-old man will step onto a two-inch-diameter steel cable and attempt to make an 1,800-foot-long high-wire walk across the rapids of Niagara Falls, nearly 200 feet above the water.
His name is Nik Wallenda, and he is a tightrope walker. It’s the family business.
(What the Kennedys are to electoral politics, what the Murdochs are to media interests, the Wallendas are to high wires. Yeah, it’s an unusual family trade. Whatever happened to, say, an old-fashioned family plumbing business?)
They are known as the Flying Wallendas, and Nik Wallenda is a seventh-generation skywalker. He is the great-grandson of Karl Wallenda, who famously said, “Life is on the wire, and everything else is just waiting.”
On the wire, of course, it’s literally life-and-death for the Wallendas; any misstep could be the last they ever take. Karl Wallenda himself perished in 1978, at age 73, falling from a tightrope in San Juan, Puerto Rico, as he attempted to walk between two towers of a 10-story hotel.
Nik Wallenda completed that same walk in San Juan last year, and how he wants to continue the tradition of daredevil feats involving Niagara Falls. Most commonly, stunt artists have tried to go over the falls in a barrel, but in the 19th century, tightrope walking across the gorge became popular.
The most notable was French aerialist Jean-Francois Gravelet, known as the Great Blondin. He first traversed Niagara Falls on a high wire — without a safety net — on June 30, 1859.
Subsequently, the Great Blondin repeated his feat in more daring fashion:
He walked backward one way and returned pushing a wheelbarrow.
He somersaulted and back flipped his way across.
He crossed carrying a table and a chair.
He crossed on a stilts and on a bicycle.
He carried a stove one time, and midway, started a fire, cooked an omelet and ate it.
And, in perhaps his most famous crossing of Niagara Falls, he carried his manager, Harry Colcord, on his back.
(Talk about earning your 10 percent; heck, I can’t even get my agent to make a phone call to Warner Brothers.)
As he attempts to follow the Great Blondin across Niagara Falls, Nik Wallenda practiced daily last month several blocks away from the gorge, where he set up a 1,200-foot-long wire near a TGI Friday’s and a Starbucks.
He has dreamed about walking over Niagara Falls since he was 6 — when I was 6, I remember dreaming about turning 7 — and he told the Toronto Star, “I’ve had a vision for my name since I was very young, that I was going to take it to the top of my industry.”
He told the New York Times he prays before he gets on the wire, every time. But he’s married; frankly, he should pray after he gets off the wire, every time.
Speaking of his wife, Erendira, she is a fellow acrobat to whom he proposed marriage on a high wire.
(Interestingly, when you propose marriage on a high wire, the high wire becomes the least of your concerns, no?)
At the moment, one of Nik Wallenda’s concerns is a dispute he’s having with ABC, which will televise his Niagara Falls attempt in a three-hour prime-time special. The network now says he must wear a safety harness — to be honest, I’d figure this actually would reduce viewer interest, because many would tune in morbidly to see if Wallenda falls to his death — and Nik has been adamant about not wearing a tether.
Erendira, also opposed to the idea of her husband wearing a tether, simply states, “If we fall, we die.”
(I’ve got to say: I’m not sure that’s the most nurturing wife in the world.)
Here’s hoping Nik Wallenda and ABC can reach an agreement. There’s nothing else good on TV that night.
Q. What is a better occupation, porn star or poker pro? (Jeffrey Stander; Potomac)
A. Poker pros whine a lot and often have to lend friends money, so, frankly, I believe my years as a porn star were more fulfilling.
Q. Are you happy you put the kibosh on I’ll Have Another? (Aaron Snyder; Indianapolis)
A. Hey, I think the horse could’ve run, but he decided to feign injury so he could watch the LPGA Championship.
Q. Are the surging Pittsburgh Pirates starting to tickle your fancy again? (Gene Velotta; Gibsonia, Pa.)
A. I don’t have a fancy.
Q. When the playoffs began, you said the Thunder would win the NBA title. You’re usually wrong. Can I get a buck-and-a-quarter for pointing out that this time you might be right? (Greg Heisler; Spokane, Wash.)
A. Shirley, pay the man two-fifty.
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