Friday, April 7, 2017

Doing The Zoo

There was almost a real zoo in my hometown. In early 1987, city leaders launched a campaign to build one with the slogan "Do The Zoo!" It seemed like a good idea to a ten-year-old: animals, and... animals. I didn't know where the menagerie would come from, but I was okay with putting them all in pens and going to visit them on occasion.

I don't know what else was going on in Shreveport in 1987, but this zoo business was huge. It was going to be big on somebody's ballot, and in Louisiana every year is an election year. There were posters, bumper stickers, and buttons. My entire fourth grade class had green T-shirts with yellow lettering proclaiming we were all in favor of "doing the zoo," as if twenty-something ten-year-olds were going to be the swing votes on the issue. We all wore them on the same day once, a show of solidarity. There was likely a group photo. We were all educated on how great a zoo would be for our local economy. It was a solid platform. We were sold!

The real mystery was how and where I actually acquired that shirt. I have no memory of going home to my parents and explaining to them the fiscal importance of bringing grizzly bears to the sweltering north Louisiana heat and putting them behind bars, though I assume it was my duty to share the message, having been brought to the front lines in the fight, dressed for zoo success.

My parents had taken us to the zoo in San Antonio a few years before the great campaign of 1987. We spend a long time laughing at a baby rhinoceros and later, my brother and I rode an elephant. Beyond that, we were not a "do stuff together" kind of family but I was smart enough to know that "doing the zoo" meant we might have the chance.

By May of 1987, school was out, my wearable propaganda was probably at the bottom of the laundry pile (where it likely had been for weeks), and voters had decided not to do the zoo. And it's a safe bet that I came to my senses about the whole spending time together plan. My brother and I would likely have ended up in a wolf enclosure, our parents so utterly exhausted by our bickering that they would have left us there to either become dinner or assimilate (the latter more likely as my brother and I were often uncivilized children).

No longer behaving like I was raised in a wolf pack, I'm a huge fan of zoos. I especially love when children get to "do the zoo," their eyes wide when they are truly amazed by magnificent creatures and nature's awesomeness. You just know they're not faking those "wow" moments when they come face to face with a giant hippo, only glass standing between them.

And I love the peaceful parts. Wandering through the Memphis Zoo today, there were many of those moments among the crowds, when I focused on the sounds of the singing birds, the gentle nudge of a giraffe reaching for the lettuce in my hand, the slippery skin of a stingray as it swims in a circle, and the smells of funnel cake and sugary snow cones.

I wonder if anyone brought up that stuff in 1987.

My First Trip to the Memphis Zoo