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The zoo. It’s a wonderfully expensive opportunity to admire the beauty of exotic animals in their most pristine state: sleeping. It’s also one of the few places you can eat an expensive meal while sitting at a cafe that’s situated downwind from a hippopotamus. Where the stench of recycled oats and hay collides with the aroma of whatever you’re eating.
Somewhere between my children’s first and third birthdays, the zoo became a very different place for me. As a parent, being at the zoo means staying on my toes. One step ahead of potential danger. I know if I’m not one step ahead, my children have a pretty high chance of getting into an accidental fight with a roaming peacock because they want a pretty green feather. The African Cheetahs can be “safely” admired from above their pen. Behind a very low rail that you could accidentally sneeze your way over. So, for safety purposes, our family behaves as if the cheetahs have a restraining order against us. We admire them from across the paved path. Behind the pretzel cart. On my phone.
Now that my kids are mobile, I rarely see animals anymore. I do get to see the ones on the carousel because we spend 80 percent of our time at the zoo there. We spend the other 20 percent chasing our kids from exhibit to exhibit, looking at things you can find anywhere. Forget ring-tailed lemurs, there are actual peanut shells on the ground over here. If I’m lucky I’ll get to see an elephant, because they’re pretty hard to miss and I almost always get the best view as it’s peeing on a pile of hay, which is also it’s food.
Of course, it’s a zoo. So, looking at animals is only part of the experience. The zoo also attracts a variety of interesting people who, otherwise, wouldn’t have anything to do with each other:
The lady in designer clothes with fashion boots who should be at Fashion week in NYC and not standing next to a monkey eating bugs out of his friend’s hair.
Screaming kids who reach for the carousel animals like they are physically being detached from a lifeline (These are my kids).
The lady who’s yelling at her kids and waving a can of beer around.
That one adult who won’t move away from the display glass so the kids can see whatever animal is there.
That kid who is throwing trash at the monkeys.
The old guy that’s throwing french fries at the camels.
When it’s time to go, you exit through the gift shop, because there’s no other way out. There, you can buy a miniature figurine of a Zebra for $40 more than the cost of an actual Zebra.
Of course, the zoo is about family time. It’s about making childhood memories. In twelve years when I tell my daughter to breakup with Stab, from the band: “Sons of Slipknot,” she can say, “You never let me do anything! We didn’t even get to see the cheetahs!”
That’s what she’ll remember.
As for me and my memory, I’ll never forget the time we spent $75 to get into the zoo, so we could huddle around a small circle of peanut shells.