Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Stay-Cation: Day One

We winnowed The Brandt Family Vacation of ’09 from a posh retreat on the beaches of Guam to some local haunts closer to home. While Aaron is a counselor at the Higher Things Youth Conference, we are sampling some regional activities.
StayCation Day One: The Detroit Zoo.
It’s been some time since I’ve visited the zoo. To me animals are animals, fish are fish, penguins are smelly and paying $4.00 for a cup of Dip’n Dots are not really the components of a memorable vacation. However, recent events have renewed my interest. First, the zoo’s water tower is no longer desecrated with “Detroit Mayor, Kwami L. Kilpatrick.” His name was removed shortly after he was handed his prison garb.

Second, a fairly recent exhibit caught my attention: The Arctic Ring of Polar Bear Fire…or something like that. After meandering through a Habitrail-like maze that would be the envy of gerbils everywhere, visitors walk through a glass tunnel and see polar bears swim over top. As skeptical as I am, this was an inspiring sight. It was much better than the Chimpanzee fiasco - more on that later - and the visual spectacle of power, grace and beauty made my dollar-an-ounce Dip’n Dots purchase somewhat more palatable.
Strolling the grounds of the zoo with my daughter and wife, I realized it is so much easier to enjoy the zoo without battling young children. Back in the day the young Brandt brood was more interested in ants swarming over discarded gum-goo, than the rare three-striped, nocturnal, two-tailed, carnivores aardvark. I didn’t have to make the sound, or even make up the sound, of each beast. My endurance was in overdrive because I didn’t exhaust myself pushing a forty-pound stroller packed with enough goods to successfully cross the Mexican border. It was enjoyable to walk up to an exhibit, look for the animals, chumpanzees excluded, and simply watch.
Since this is the forty-year anniversary of the alleged moon landing, I find the zoo’s chimpanzees a fitting parallel. Never, in all my visits to this place, have I seen one living being in that forsaken field the Detroit Zoo calls its chimpanzee exhibit. Never. Once, after spending .25 cents on a viewfinder and meticulously scanning the dry brush for signs of primate life, I saw a figure dart out from under a log and into a bush clump. With heart racing and eyes widening, I focused on my target hoping to spot the ever-elusive chimpanzee. My hopes vanished when a brown squirrel scampered across the grass with what appeared to be a cotton candy cone in his mouth. Exotic? Yes. Chimpanzee? No. The exhibit is marketing hype. The only chimpanzee near that zoo is the artists’ illustration on a plaque outside the wooden fence. I bet there have never been any chimps and we are the chumps.

The exhibit opens up with great fanfare. People flock to see the primates in a fabricated natural environment. Nothing. No movement. No chimp sounds. No tree swinging. Nothing. A zoo expert claims they must be on the other side of the hill, or sleeping or privately eating. I don’t disagree. I believe they are doing all these things in a field in the middle of Chimpville, but not at the Detroit Zoo! To appease the tourists’ disappointment a gift shop, complete with chimps that coo, hop, wink and swing, is strategically placed across the walkway. Sanity is restored. Kids are happily playing with their cuddly chimp and parents enjoy a fleeting moment of peace.


RobinK said...

I hate to burst your bubble...but I've seen chimps there. Really. In Person.

JBrandt said... person? Ha! Nothing but a disguise. You are probably on the zoo's payroll, cashing checks to ensure this conspiracy remains silent. person. The cryptic coding didn't fool me. And don't you own a gorilla suit? We didn't land on the moon, Shakespeare never existed, Christopher Marlowe deserves the literary fame and there are NO chimps at the zoo.