When Luke was a little kid — that kid is coming up on 22 any day now — our family, like lots of families, tromped through our share of requisite trips to the local zoo. It’s a parental rite of passage. A kid’s prime zoo-going years are somewhere between 2-12, I’d guess, though it might start a little earlier than that. Outside of those years, most people — especially most grown people — just don’t go to the zoo much.
I like zoos, though. And Atlanta’s zoo — it’s actually called Zoo Atlanta — is, near as I can tell, a fine zoo, complete with pandas and elephants and lions and a couple zebras and a bunch of gorillas and various other exotic and not-so exotic species. (Snakes and bugs and lizards and whatever … I don’t have a lot of use for them.) The Zoo is, I’m sure, like a lot of zoos; you look at the animals for a while, walk around a lot, listen to some conservation spiels and pay $8 for a burger that’s been sitting there since yesterday and $3 for a Coke. Along, of course, with the $28 entry fee.
You take a lot of pictures of the back of some animal’s head, and you move on. You stare at the critters in their little faux homes, behind their bars or fences, and you wonder what they must be thinking. Which is, probably, “Is it chow time yet?”, or “If that little bastard moves a couple steps closer, I’m gonna give him a scare that’ll scar him for life.”
Still, zoos are fun, especially on a beautiful day like last Saturday, when Mary Jo and I (Luke was nowhere to be found) made our way down to Atlanta for a bat mitzvah party for the daughter of a friend. The sun was out, the animals seemed to be putting up with us, we didn’t have to eat normal zoo food, I sucked up two Cokes at the party so I didn’t have to pay for them while we strolled around … it was nice.
The party was held on a patio in a relatively new $50 million expansion of the park which overlooks the elephants, zebras and giraffes. (It was a little weird wolfing down a shish kebab at the party while watching the elephants, while the elephants wolfed down a bale of hay — straw, maybe? — watching us.) The spot is called the African Savanna (as opposed to Georgia’s Savannah). It was nice.
Good zoos — and Atlanta’s probably falls into that category — are an important part of the culture of many cities, big ones and small ones. But like the symphony or the aquarium or the ballet, they’re just not a place we find ourselves very often. Even in those prime kid-toting years, it was twice a year, maybe. Three times, max.
Before last weekend, we hadn’t been in probably 10 years. I don’t think we even considered going in the past decade. If we lived 20 miles closer, I doubt we would have considered it.
Still, like the symphony or the art museum and all those in-town amenities that the in-towners talk about but never actually use, it’s nice to know that Zoo Atlanta and its exotic inhabitants, and even its everyday ones, will still be there waiting for us whenever we’re ready to fork over $28 to see something that you don’t see every day in a city of 6 million.
So, on a nice day, maybe we’ll go again soon. It sure beats another trip to Target.