On the last day, we had an hour left to kill before we needed to leave. Our options were to spend the whole hour at the National Zoo or to ride the subway once and then spend half an hour at the zoo. It was put to a vote, and since most of us kids were from rural Western North Carolina and had never ridden a subway before, that's the option that won. I was pissed. I had ridden a subway before, but I had never been to a zoo bigger than the one in Great Bend, Kansas, which is about as impressive as it sounds. We rode the subway, then saw maybe one animal, before hopping back on the bus and driving back to North Carolina. I had a bad attitude about the whole thing, and so didn't enjoy any of it. My sister calls this not having a happy heart, which is kinda hokey but better than saying "shut up, you rotten ingrate."
I learned a couple things from this experience about vacation time management, namely that I would rather miss out on some things than not see anything properly. I did not learn anything about having a happy heart until many years later.
I was reminded of that brief zoo visit while in Philadelphia. See, we had tickets to go to the zoo as part of the CityPass, but there was just not enough time to do it. We wanted to focus our time on going to things that were not in other cities, and well, even Great Bend, Kansas has a zoo. So we spent a long time at the Eastern State Penitentiary and then realized that we only had an hour before the zoo closed. We knew that we would not be able to get there on another day, so we decided that we might as well use our tickets to get an hour of zoo time. We would not waste time riding the freaking subway. Instead, we rode a double-decker tourist bus, also as part of our CityPass. Because of my great strides in improving my attitude, I was okay about the shortness of the visit. Also, I've been to more zoos since the eighth grade.
Here are some random things from my time at the Philly Zoo, which is the oldest in the country.
- They have a really nice rare animal exhibit, where I saw some animals that I'd never heard of. Each animal had a map that showed its natural habitat, and most of these guys had tiny little blips on their maps, about the size of Great Bend, Kansas.
- Did you know that some porcupines have prehensile tails?
- Ashley does not like birds, so we skipped the aviary completely. I love exotic birds, but remember, I had a happy heart. However, I did take a picture of some squabbling flamingoes to send to my flamingo-obsessed niece. She called me the next day to ask where I saw the birds, then said "Okay, that's all." and then hung up. We're not phone people in my family.
- There were also some free-range peacocks. One of them chased Ashley, who, seriously, does not like birds.
- They had a system of wire tunnels set up between the trees all over the park (sort of like the tunnels in a fancy hamster cage), such that the monkeys could wander around the park while still being separated from the apes with clothes on. As we were leaving, one of them was using the system to travel along, but he stopped and yelled at us for a while. We yelled back. WHAKU! WHAKU! I wonder what we said.
- There were several flat penny machines, but none of the design options had "Philadelphia Zoo" on them, just pictures of animals. So I saved my fifty-one cents. I mention this in case anyone who is looking into getting a flat penny machine and is considering designs. If you don't put the name on the penny, then it's a pretty crappy souvenir.
- Ashley could have spent the entire hour watching the prairie dogs.
- The cheetah enclosure was at the top of a hill. There was a low stone wall that you could see the animals over, and on the other side of the wall was a huge drop, so any cheetah that wanted to go see the prairie dogs would have to jump pretty high to get out. And then they'd just run into the electric wires at the top. However, from the bottom of the hill, you couldn't really tell all this. You just see a low wall separating you from the worlds fastest land animal. Because of this, Ashley refused to go up the path because she thought the cheetahs were out, as in escaped. Not until I was all the way at the top could I convince her that it was safe. And she was still freaked out, enough that any stray squirrel in the bush made her jump. I guess she thinks that zoo animals just escape all the time, and once they do, they hang out in other parts of the zoo. If I had been an escaped cheetah, I would have gone to see the sights of Philadelphia, maybe invested in a CityPass.
We entered the zoo at 4:00 and walked out at 5:12, just in time to run across the street and catch the goofy tourist bus. We pretty much ran past the last few exhibits and missed the big cats completely, but it was fun anyway. Everything is fun when you have a happy heart.