Sunday, July 25, 2010
"All the animals in the zoo/
Are jumping up and down for you."
Lame lyrics. But they are a vivid part of my heritage. Designed to compel children to hector their parents for a trip to the zoo.
It certainly worked in our household.
When I was growing up, the Portland Zoo was a big deal. We moved to the Portland suburbs just as I was entering the fourth grade. An age when a boy finds wonder in everything.
And the zoo was the biggest wonder of all. To be mere feet away from animals that could crush or chew me provided a better adrenalin high than all the Twinkies I could eat.
The zoo of my early youth was one of those Victorian throwbacks where animals were confined in the equivalent of jail cells.
The star was Rosy, an Asian elephant. She always seemed to be resigned to her life as an object of adoration and city pride.
In 1959, the zoo moved to modern quarters -- at the time, a world-class facility. And with an additional set of new stars: penguins. People flocked to see penguins at play and the result of the zoo's successful elephant breeding program. Baby elephants were soon popping out one after the other.
The new zoo followed the modern standard of trying to creating more natural surroundings. And more space -- for both the resident animals and the human visitors.
I cannot remember the last time I visited the zoo. Probably in the early 1970s.
So, I jumped (or in my case, limped) at an invitation to visit the zoo last Sunday. (Two earlier dates had fallen through.)
I would like to say it was a perfect trip. It wasn't. The weather was nice. And the company was personable. But not even Joe Biden could spin the zoo part of the trip into a good memory.
The zoo had a few new and interesting exhibits. A bat house -- you can never go wrong with lots of bats. A crocodile house. A Pacific Northwest exhibition with eagles, bears, and mountain goats.
But almost all of the enclosures had a shop-worn look. As if the zoo decided to reflect the state of the American economy in weeds and chipped paint.
That may be why the giraffe and hippopotamus had the thousand-yard stare of workers awaiting their redundancy notices.
Even the elephants and penguins appeared to have fallen on Norma Desmond times. Big stars fallen. The penguins appeared to be serving hard time.
Maybe I expected too much of the visit. Or worse, maybe I counted on reality to live up to my memories. A certain formula for failure. My feelings toward animals is certainly different now than it was three decades ago.
But the visit was not a waste. My ankle got a good workout. And I had a good time with an old friend.
And maybe -- just maybe -- I will visit the zoo again.
In another 30 years.