It’s the kind of moment a man hears can happen, but never sees coming. He’s walking around by himself, minding his own business, lonesome in a crowd but trying to keep up his spirits. Then out of nowhere a young lady walks up to him without preamble or any sign of hesitation, stares him down point-blank, and hits him up with the kind of once-in-a-lifetime proposition he’d have to be a fool to refuse:
“Hi! Would you like to help feed the meerkats?”
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Each year my wife and I take a road trip to a different part of the United States and see what sorts of historical landmarks, natural wonders, man-made oddities, unexplored restaurants, and cautionary tales await us. From November 1-6, 2015, we racked up a number of personal firsts. My wife Anne was invited on her first business trip to Colorado Springs, all expenses paid from flight to food to lodging to rental car, to assist with cross-training at a distant affiliate. Her supervisor gave me permission to attend as her personal travel companion as long as I bought my own plane ticket and food. I posted one photo for each of the six days while we were on location. With this series, we delve into selections from the 500+ other photos we took along the way.
There I was, strolling around the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, taking pics at my own pace while occasional crowds of preschoolers and home-schoolers enjoyed their field trips on a warm November morning. Before the zookeeper popped the question, I’d seen a couple of meerkats already along the path through the “Yellow Zone”, the designated turf for their African animals.
You know how a lot of zoo animals are. A zoo is a wonderland whenever you get to see its residents acting up, prancing about, batting at their food, performing cool tricks, or just running laps around their pens. Too often, though, they hide on the far side away from the visitors’ windows, pretend they don’t see you, and schedule back-to-back naptimes from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Other times, they refuse to do anything but stand perfectly still and gaze into your very soul.
Then I turned the corner and walked into the role of temp meerkat feeder. To this day I have no idea why they picked me for the privilege. Working theories:
* I looked lonely and in need of cheering up.
* They saw a weirdo scribbling into a notepad, suspected I was a blogger, and saw a promotional opportunity.
* It was their way of keeping the creepy loner under closer surveillance.
* I looked like I wouldn’t be scared of cuter, fancier ferrets.
* I looked like I wouldn’t sue if they bit me.
* The home-school moms had a vote and no one told me.
* The meerkats in their infinite wisdom sensed something special in me and used their secret mental powers to command their human servants, “BRING HIM TO US.”
* I was the very next person coming up the walkway at the exact moment of feeding time.
The world may never know.
RECIPE FOR MEERKAT FEED
1 medium burlap scrap, rag, square, whatever
live baby worms, larvae, or other form of detestable, no-legged fish bait
1. With burlap in one hand, apply small quantity of wriggly protein with the other.
2. Place infested burlap on ground.
3. Back away a few inches; wait for meerkats to overcome fear of strangers.
4. Watch feeding ensue.
It didn’t take long for the furry li’l diners to evaluate me as a non-threat and emerge from hiding. Apparently they thought the grub(s) worth the risk.
Once they were finished, they remained tentative and didn’t approach me too closely. They didn’t lick my hand, nuzzle against my leg, make happy meerkat noises, perform selections from The Lion King, or complain about their portrayal in Madagascar. By the same token, the zookeeper’s invitation did not extend to me holding a meerkat, which is just as well because I understand their reaction would inflict several points of damage. And I like my eyes where they are.
But I appreciated the chance to go backstage for a few minutes and hang out with such popular performers. A few kids wandered by during the meerkats’ meal, and I’m sure they were curious why one of the people on the other side of the glass was dressed funny. Relax, kids — maybe someday the mighty meerkat hivemind will choose you as their next servant.
To be continued!
[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for previous and future chapters, and for our complete road trip history to date. Thanks for reading!]