We must be crazy, I thought, as my friend Jacqueline and I drove toward the San Diego Zoo.
On a Saturday.
But it was late afternoon, and although at first glance the parking lot looked full, we got a spot within shouting distance of the entrance because the early birds were already stuffing Zoo memorabilia and cranky children back into their cars.
And yet … there were hoards of people just inside the gate, posing with koala-dressed characters and pointing at the free-range peacocks. So we did what any savvy Zoo members would do: we jumped onto the Sky Tram and in 10 minutes we were transported to the relative quiet of the far side of the park. Where we were transformed into little kids ourselves, squealing “Elephants!”.
I never know which part of the Zoo is more fascinating: the animals or the people. Our eyes were trained on the former, but the things we overheard people saying kept us giggling. For instance, when a particularly bored male tapir decided to … take it out and play with it, in a quite entertaining fashion, a teenage girl with pink sparkly face-paint stared and asked, quite seriously, “Is that a BOY?” Ummm, last I checked, girls don’t normally have one of those.
And when an elephant takes a dump, everyone at the fence feels the need to comment on it. Granted, I’m glad I’m not the one cleaning the habitat, because one elephant equals an entire barn full of warmbloods in that respect. And the elephants seem to take some pleasure in “downloading” as close to the fence as possible. Really. They’re bored. We amuse them.
Then there was the little girl at the alpaca pen who stared into those huge, beautiful, long-lashed eyes and announced, “You sure are a creepy looking thing.” I told her that he probably thought the same thing about her. She ran away. Jacqueline and I laughed. Even the alpaca seemed to giggle.
And there is something about a sleeping animal that seems to require people to chirp, clap, make kissing sounds or bang on the glass. Fortunately most of the animals are so habituated to humans’ self-involved behavior that it doesn’t even make them flinch.
The most interesting thing to me was that because we were standing quietly and glancing at them instead of staring at them, many of the animals became curious about us. The alpaca, for instance, watched us intently for several minutes before lying down and getting comfortable…. while continuing to watch us. The oldest of the elephants kept an eye on me while I drew, and the moment I was finished and changed my posture he ambled off.
We sketched. I had my iPad and Jacqueline worked “old school” with graphite and white chalk on toned paper. Jac has mad drawing skills: here’s a link to one of her sketches. We sketched even when jostled by double-wide strollers. We sketched as parents thrust their toddlers in front of our faces so they could see the animals. We sketched as the sun set, and the light got so dim that we could barely see the patterns on the giraffes.