Our 2005 Road Trip, Part 4 of 10: Mandatory Zoo Visit

Butterfly Me!

My impression of Hannibal Lecter’s cage guard.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Welcome to the first installment of another special MCC miniseries, representing the original travelogue from our 2005 drive from Indianapolis to San Antonio, Texas, and back again in far too short a time…

We had one specific tourist attraction we wanted to see in San Antonio, one of their most famous sites and a pivotal location in American history. It’s not hard to guess if you know the area.

But first, a zoo. That’s what happens sometimes when you bring kids on vacation.

* * * * *

DAY THREE: Monday, July 25th.

Ever since the three of us began vacationing together in 2003, one of our long-standing traditions has been that my son gets to choose one attraction himself, no matter how pedestrian, no matter how expensive, no matter how much unappealing it is to the adults. For our 2003 vacation in Washington, DC, it was the Six Flags outside Baltimore. For our 2004 vacation in the Niagara area, it was Six Flags Darien Lake. We’d already gone to Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom earlier in 2005, so we’d ruled out Six Flags as a Texas option. (And the following year it would be the Minnesota Zoo.)

Thus — after a free hotel breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon (having run out of sausage just before we grabbed our plates), not to mention a fresh Belgian waffle for Anne — we headed down to my son’s chosen attraction for 2005: the San Antonio Zoo. We’ve been to the Indianapolis Zoo enough times (including one visit not even a month before this trip, for crying out loud) that the prospect of visiting another state’s zoo thrilled me as much as the idea of visiting another state’s Walmarts. As usual, though, I was willing to compromise. For what it’s worth, the animal variety was greater than Indy’s own, but most of the animal dwelling areas were smaller.

We took many zoo photos, but, y’know, they’re zoo photos. Everyone has their own collection of zoo photos in a drawer somewhere. Curiously, most of our San Antonio animal photos either vanished from our boxes or were figments of my imagination.

Hidden Eagle!

Highlights for Children puzzle: can YOU spot the eagle in this photo?

Dark Animal!

Rorschach test: what kind of animal do YOU think this blotch was?

My notes indicate I once had an okay shot of some hippos, but otherwise they’re not with us anymore. On the other hand, pics of various props and scenery survive. Go figure.

Fake Komodo!

Fake Komodo dragon. Why look at real animals when you can sit on animal statues?

Fake Sloth!

Fake sloth, a bit larger than the DMV employees from Zootopia.

Fake Lion Pride!

Fake lions, real pride.

Butterfly Boy!

Probably imagining himself as a favorite Digimon.

Swimmin' Hole!

Why anticipate the hotel pool when you can wallow in the zoo’s kiddie pool? My family hung out in the contaminated water and then they died. The End.

One of the more bizarre sights we neglected to photograph was that of a free-roaming macaw atop a large bush…in front of which lay the rotting corpse of a wild squirrel. We walked slowly away from the bush, never letting the macaw out of our sight until were were at a minimum safe distance.

At one point, my son wanted to borrow my camera to take a picture of some alligator relative whose name escapes me — something long-snouted and beginning with a T. Rather than giving me a second to remove the strap from my neck and hand it to him, he grabbed the camera itself and pulled me along as he got into snapping position. I stood behind him but yanked down by the camera strap into a slumped position where I couldn’t see his face. For an unusual number of seconds, he stood motionless and silent. I began to goad him until I noticed Anne’s eyes — she was standing off to one side and facing us, with a panicked look on her face. A wide-eyed Anne looked from him to me and said, “There’s a bee on his mouth.”

The three of us stood still for a painful length of time as I pondered whether or not there was a way I could swat a bee I couldn’t see off a face not pointed toward me. I considered telling my son just to drop the camera and back off toward me, but I didn’t know how secure the bee might have been, not to mention that tripping over me wouldn’t help matters. I’d moved on in my mind to Plan C, which didn’t actually exist yet but I’m sure would’ve been totally heroic and cool…by which time we’d bored the bee away. My son dropped the camera and jumped about ten feet back on my left side and spent a minute or so trying to stop shaking. Ron Weasley has his spiders; my son has bees. We understood he needed some time to calm down.

The rest of the zoo visit was much more relaxed. I learned of a bird called a buff-crested bustard, and wondered why we don’t see the word “bustard” bandied about on the Internet more often. We bought my son a zoo hat from a souvenir stand run by a lady who was in the middle of chapter fourteen of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince when we interrupted to make our purchase. We watched a Cuvier’s Madagascar swift shedding its skin and showing us just how cooler shedded gecko skin looks compared to shedded snake skin. We ate lunch at the zoo cafe, where I got a fajita and my son got an Angus beef burger, fulfilling one of his personal vacation objectives until we pointed out that it was, y’know, zoo food.


The souvenir zoo hat was worn three times in his life, if that.

Once we left the zoo, I talked the others into walking down the street to one of the third-string options on my tourist-trap list: the Japanese Tea Gardens. Originally built in 1919 or so on the grounds of an abandoned mill, it’s a sizeable tangle of peaceful pathways that wind through a panoply of unusual flora and stone constructs. The site was actually renamed “Chinese Tea Gardens” in World War II, as a still-standing “Chinese Tea Gardens” sign attests. The original name was restored in 1983 in a fit of shame and guilt. Ongoing restoration efforts continued slowly and not too noticeably in the days and years ahead, as far as I know.

Tiny Waterfall Path!

That’s not a waterfall. [points to our 2004 Niagara photos] THAT’S a waterfall!

Anne and my son were still worn out from the zoo, so I was the only one who cared about any of this. I may have been the only one who was really digging the San Antonio dry heat, as opposed to the usual heat of Indianapolis, as especially opposed to Arkansas’ Vietnam simulation. Undaunted, I left them to sit for a spell while I explored a bit.

Japanese Tea Gardens!

Behold my uncaring family. Wait, that came out wrong.

I found one path with actual bamboo shoots on it, but it led to a dead end in some bushes…where I found a small clearing inhabited by one housecat without a collar, who was surrounded by several plastic TV-dinner trays in various stages of consumption. Experiencing what I can only describe in hindsight as a “bad feeling”, I changed my mind about my wandering, decided that we should probably get going, and returned to the others. Ten minutes later we finally rediscovered the exit, which we’d wandered too far from on our way in.

Butterfly Anne!

Anne imagines herself flying away to a magical land with air conditioning and no more summertime walking for a few hours.

To be continued!

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email signup for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my TV live-tweeting and other signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

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