Even while he's juggling fire, people find Scot Free's pitch hard to believe.
"There's going to be a guy on a motorcycle on a highwire... And his mom on a trapeze. And they come out and do motorcycle tricks," Free calls out to people milling about on Victoria Avenue on a summer's night in Niagara Falls. The puzzled looks on the faces of people poking around the souvenir shops or walking from their hotel to a restaurant make it clear they don't know what to make of him.
He does a juggling show and comedy routine at street level - kind of an opening act to gather a crowd for the daredevil who will drive a motorcycle on a wire stretched between the roofs of a wax museum and a hotel.
"Nobody believes me," the juggler sighs as he rummages through the tools of his trade - bowling pins, knives, torches and a jar of barbecue lighter fluid. But, it's Niagara Falls in the summer, and truth is stranger than fiction.
Over the next 30 minutes on a hot, summer Sunday night, a few hundred people will watch him juggle fire, tell jokes and pique the crowd's interest about the promised motorcycle trick.
"I'm going to light some stuff on fire and try to attract some people over here," Free says as he dunks the torches in the lighter fluid. "Bigger flames mean bigger excitement."
Next thing you know, you've got a guy juggling flames in the middle of a public sidewalk as curious onlookers slowly surround him.
True to his word, after 20 minutes of juggling and joking, Free directs his crowd's attention to the rooftops of Victoria Avenue. Enrique Valencia, a 29-year-old daredevil from Texas, and his mother Lynn, are readying themselves for the Highwire Sky Cycle.
Valencia hops onto a silver Honda Nighthawk motorcycle on the roof of the Louis Tussaud's Waxworks museum. It looks like a regular, small bike - except there are no tires. The rims of the wheels sit right on the wire the way a train's wheels sit on a rail. And, of course, his mother is sitting on a trapeze that dangles from the motorcycle.
It only takes a few seconds to zip from the roof of Tussaud's to the roof the nearby Days Inn hotel - nearly a city block. So Valencia backs up his motorcycle and does it again. And again. He stops his bike, some 70 feet above the street so his mother can dangle from the trapeze. She puts a strap around her head, attaches it to the trapeze, then twirls like a figure skater to the delight and applause of the crowd below.
It's not the kind of thing you see every day. The whole spectacle is part of the Summer of Thrills at Niagara Falls event, starring Valencia and his mother doing the Sky Cycle act or Valencia performing on the Wheel of Fate on the roof of the Imperial Hotel. The Wheel of Fate kind of looks like a human-sized hamster wheel on top of a hotel. Valencia runs on the inside and outside of the wheel while it rotates.
There are two different shows along Victoria Avenue, Free explains. At 4 and 8 p.m., Valencia does the Highwire Sky Cycle north of Clifton Hill, between the Tussaud's wax museum and the Days Inn. At 2 and 6 p.m., Valencia does the Wheel of Fate on the roof of the Imperial Hotel, south of Clifton Hill. "It's celebrating the daredevil tradition of Niagara," Free said. "It'll be happening all summer."
Niagara Falls has been associated with daredevils for 155 years when the famous tightrope walker Blondin walked over the gorge. Daredevils have been unable to resist the awe-inspiring geography of the falls and the crowds of people visiting Niagara Falls.
The shows feature performers of Toronto-based Zero Gravity Circus. They're sponsored by the Tourism Partnership of Niagara, Victoria-Centre Business Improvement Area board and Niagara Falls Tourism. It was inspired by the late great wirewalker Jay Cochrane, the "Prince of the Air," who spent many summers doing highwire acts in Niagara Falls before he died of cancer last year.
The Summer of Thrills performers have only been putting on the shows for a couple of weeks, but already they're earning some recognition.
"Are you going to do it again tonight?" a man asked when he saw Free wheeling his trunk along the Victoria Avenue sidewalk half an hour before his show. "Yep. Eight o'clock," Free says.
Visitors to Niagara Falls are enjoying the free entertainment. Susie Barnes, from Chatham, Ont., with three boys under the age of eight, saw Free's juggling act so often over the weekend that he recognized the boys and incorporated them into his act.
"It's free so, that's really important. I think it's great. It got a lot of people around," Barnes said.