My mom is visiting for a few days. She came up Wednesday, spent Thursday with my stepdad and wanted to do something special with me Friday, since I had nothing scheduled. I'd been meaning to visit the Minnesota Zoo all summer, as I hadn't been there since 2007, but when I checked the Metro Transit site, I saw that it would take 2 and a half hours to get there by bus. I'm used to long commutes, but I'm not spending five hours of an eight-hour day on a bus so I can stand at a window and strain to see a bored wolf sleep in the dirt. However, the weather was lovely yesterday, and my mom drives a car, so we made the long trip to Apple Valley in hopes of getting a visit in before winter.
The Toledo Zoo is the standard by which I judge all zoos. I have extended family that lives in Ohio, and any visit over the summer warranted a day trip. We'd drive across the Maumee River on the high-level bridge, drive around the working-class Polish neighborhoods until we found the vast parking lot, and then walk through a tunnel under the road to the ticket booth. To a seven year-old whose only other experience with zoos was the bleak and joyless Bever Park Zoo in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, it was awe-inspiring. I loved the wallabies near the front entrance, the ivy-strewn, Edwardian-era brick buildings and their dark exhibits, and the glowing red voltage detector above the electric eel tank. The zoo was large, compact, and full of beautiful architecture that even a child could find awe-inspiring.
The Minnesota Zoo is newer, quieter, and more spread out, but rather charmless by comparison. The buildings are all concrete and blocky, and since they renovated the entrance to make room for the new penguin exhibit, the entryway looks like the front lobby of a corporate HQ. On the plus side, much of the zoo is indoors, and they forego the usual staples of elephants, lions and gorillas in favor of animals that are actually somewhat interesting, including three whole species of otter from as many continents.
I should note, however, that out of three trips to the Minnesota Zoo in four years, this was the second time I've looked in the Asian Small-Clawed Otter pit and found two of them in mid-coitus, surrounded by a crowd of confused children and red-faced young parents. In fact, after a brief internet search, I'm pretty sure that I watched the conception of three of those otters the last time I visited. I'm all in favor of breeding programs for endangered species and all, but I have to wonder how many certain parent-child conversations were started a few years earlier than expected because of the small-clawed otters.
There are dolphins at Discovery Bay, but the exhibit seems to have been hit with a gypsy curse that has killed several of them over the past few years, either through sickness or freak accidents, so the shows are on hiatus. The closest thing we got to a show was the geriatric Semo playing solo fetch with a floaty toy while bored-looking trainers threw chum at him. I'd never seen the beluga whales that had been there at the zoo opening; I thought for a long time that I had when I first visited in 1994, but this would have been a neat trick seeing as they were transferred to another zoo seven years earlier. My only real memory of 1987 is of my father taking me to visit his girlfriend who worked in a nursing home, and how much I liked her because she always gave me tapioca pudding cups. But maybe that didn't really happen, either.
I learned that animals in water exhibits are fascinated by purses. Twenty children banging on a window and shouting at a penguin will elicit a bored, vapid look, but wave your cheapo, thrift-store purse in front of the glass and suddenly Happy Feet is doing barrel-rolls in front of you and wanting to know who your personal shopper is. This became useful as my mom waged a constant battle with her digital camera to get shots that weren't blurry.
After the zoo, we went and got burgers at the Happy Gnome on Selby Ave., which turned out to be way more money than we were planning on spending for dinner, but the food was excellent, so it was worth it. I like that neighborhood a lot. Then we went to Target, dropped some stuff off at the drop-in center, and went home.
For now, that's all I got.